The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

Reykjavik Nights

 - Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Reykjavik Nights is the latest crime novel by Icelander Arnaldur Indriðason—one of the so called Scandi crime school. I have read his early books and I was very impressed with his detective, Erlendur Sveinsson, both for his politics and his compassion for the less fortunate in his community. In Reykjavik Nights, Erlendur is a young  policeman, not yet a detective, but the traits that make him so interesting in the later novels are beginning to show through. The book starts with a body found floating in an abandoned peat digging. The body is that of a homeless man named Hannibal, with whom Erlendur has been acquainted. At first, he goes along with the theory that Hannibal drunkenly fell into the digging, but as the story unfolds, Erlendur begins to think there is more to it. The book is set in the seedy side of Reykjavik—a place full of meth drinkers, drug addicts, men and women reduced to living a bare existence on the streets. I actually found some of this quite difficult to read, mainly because it was so sad. Erlendur is never judgemental of these down and outs, but rather in some way on their side. As he is on the  night shift, the book is packed with road accidents, domestic violence, all the things that happen in a large city during the night hours. As Erlendur pursues the case of the homeless man, he hears of a young woman who has gone missing on her way home from a club—the two cases are connected, and of course Erlendur gathers up the various strands together to reveal the whole story.
I suppose by now most crime readers would know Louise Penny's books. I love them, so I was very pleased to see a new one. In The Long way Home, Armand Gamache has retired from his role as Chief Inspector of the Homicide Division of the Quebec police. He and his wife have returned to the village of Three Pines, a place where crimes have occurred that he has investigated and through doing so made friends among the villagers. Gamache and his wife are looking forward to a quiet life, but of course this being a crime novel, that's never going to happen. Three Pines is the home of artists and poets—two of the best known painters are a married couple, Peter & Clara Morrow. To give their troubled marriage a break, Peter has left the village for a year. When there is no sign of him three weeks after the date of his return, Clara goes to Gamache. A story about ambition, jealousy and pride, it moves from Three Pines to the city of Toronto and on to a secluded place in the wild Canadian countryside. While I think the murder method was a bit bizarre, I still enjoyed the book for its eclectic collection of characters, the setting, and the wonderful Armand Gamache. You don't have to read Louise Penny's books in order, but there are story lines that are ongoing, so it may be better to start with the first, Still Life, if you haven't read her before. As an aside, I recently saw this on television, and although the reviews were a bit so-so, I enjoyed it.
When I was about 12 or 13, the mother of a friend of mine invited me and another girl to go with her and her daughter to see a film in the city. I can't remember the name of the film, but it would have been a musical, as that was really all we were allowed to see. It was all very exciting, a five o'clock session in one of Sydney's lovely old theatres, now long gone. However, on arriving at Town Hall station, the daughter became violently ill, and suddenly I was in emergency at Sydney Hospital. What happened next, I'm not sure, but I do know she was admitted—diagnosed with polio. I also remember that I, in the heartless way of young people, was very miffed that I never got to see the film. This is all in way of introducing The Golden Age by Joan London—which is set in 1950s Perth, in the eponymous convalescent home for polio victims. It tells the story of young sufferers, Frank and Elsa, and the bond of young (and lasting) love that springs up between them during their stay at The Golden Age. Frank is a gentle, introverted boy of 13—a Jewish refugee from Hungary. Elsa is a local girl whose parents felt she was better off in the home. Frank meets a patient who is a poet, whose death wakes in him a poetic impulse and he begins to write—he has a little prescription pad that he keeps in his pocket, ready to hand when words suddenly come into his head. The book is full of wonderful characters: Frank's mother, a former pianist in Hungary, who gives a fund raising concert at the home; his father who changes his job for a taste of freedom; and the Golden Age's matron who is so full of love and compassion for her charges. There is a lovely story of a trip to the beach and the sense of freedom the children have, being on the sand and in the sea. I could say more, but I urge you to read it yourself. It is a wonderful book, its pages resonate with love and longing. There is a sense that even with a loving family we are in some ways all on our own and have to find a way to cope with whatever fate throws at us.
Next month, the new Ann Cleeves Shetland novel. Looking forward to it.