As a first time reader of Arnaldur Indridason, and somewhat prejudiced in my disposition to crime novels, I was not quite sure what to expect from Outrage.
However, Indridason managed to catch me by surprise; the combination of an intricate plot, the author’s own presence in the novel, and an understanding of Icelandic reality, both its cons and pros, compelled me to finish the novel.
Outrage is the ninth book in the Detective Erlendur series and this time the protagonist is Elínborg, a seasoned detective who is also a mother and a wife. She investigates a brutal murder and during the investigation battles with the hidden ugliness of human nature visible only to few as well as her own guilt pertaining to parental neglect.
One of my arguments against writing crime novels set in Iceland has been that there is simply no basis to believe such brutality occurs within the confinements of our little island; that the writing itself is almost wishful thinking, a way to place Reykjavík on a platform with American cities where detectives do investigate brutal murders. However, Indridason proved me wrong in Outrage, starting with the plot.
The plot is sparked by a simple event, a murder of a young man living in Reykjavík city. The plot explores the initial impressions of Elínborg, to more questionable details of lifestyle choices leading to a full exposure of a much darker world, so far from our imagination yet perhaps too easy to stumble into.
The notions of guilt and innocence enter into a battle zone where the undeserving experience guilt and the question of rightful punishment for the deserving are ever-present in the characters and their conflictions.
Then there’s the author’s presence in the novel. Like E.M. Forster in Howards End, a slight voice belonging to the author climbs to the surface occasionally revealing social criticism of the Icelandic legal system, a voice seemingly belonging to a character but one that seems to possess them for a second and say the unspoken in straightforward manner. However, the intervention of the author’s voice is not necessary to the storyline as the story itself leaves the reader fatigued by the brutality of human action against fellow human beings.
Indridason has been published in several languages and it is perhaps the sense of Iceland and the Icelandic reality that intrigues foreign readership to his work.
He captures the intricate details of the Icelandic way of life and of the citizens in Europe’s northernmost capital city, with a glimpse into smaller communities that seem so strange to a city dweller, yet to someone whose childhood was spent in such a place, the familiarity of people’s interaction is prevailing. The story captures the sense of invisible borders between the citizens of this island in the North yet does not discriminate.
The protagonist Elínborg and her thoughts and investigative work are revealed to the reader but little is said about Sigurdur Óli, a disgruntled police officer whose fuse is short, much to Elínborg’s dislike. The presence of Elínborg’s family serves as her shelter from the world yet not a shelter from her inner life.
The storyline is simple yet invites the reader to catch a glimpse of a subplot involving the invisible character Erlendur, a mild introduction to a mystery to be resolved in a later book perhaps.
Outrage is not a masterpiece but succeeds where many crime novels fail: to provoke the reader and surprise with an unforeseen solution to the end.
The original title of Outrage, Myrká or “Dark River” is certainly appropriate for the evil running through the plot.
Published by Vaka-Helgafell Publishing House in 2008, the book is available at www.amazon.com and most Icelandic bookstores.