Jar City

by Arnaldur IndriĆ°ason

In the third book in a series about Reykjavik detective Erlendur Sveinsson, a new case connects two decades-old unsolved mysteries.

Content warning: sexual abuse, drug abuse, death.

I don’t read many mysteries, but I was drawn to this one since it is set in Reykjavik, and my fascination with Iceland and nostalgia for our brief time there has been helping me cope with 2020.

Erlendur is a typical fictional detective: Divorced, stubborn, and rough around the edges, but incisive and relentless. He works too much, has a terrible diet, and is trying but failing to quit smoking. You know the type.

In this book he is investigating the murder of an elderly man, whose body was found with a note from the murderer: “I am him.” With little to go on, careful detective work leads Erlendur to two cold cases from decades ago: a rape allegation dismissed by the police, and a man who seemingly disappeared overnight.

A side-plot involves Erlendur attempting to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter, Eva Lind, who struggles with drug addiction. The bleak reality of the murder case, where each new detail is more disturbing than the last, seems to spur him to appreciate what he has, and what he might lose, however messy and imperfect it may be.

Not being too familiar with detective fiction, I can only assume this book is a pretty typical example. It was only remarkable for me because of the setting in Iceland. But because of that, and also because it was a quick, satisfying read, I plan on seeing what happens with inspector Erlendur in the next book, Silence of the Grave.