Wednesday, November 12, 2008

“His Success Is Good for All of Us”

One of my many favorite memories from the recent Bouchercon in Baltimore is of meeting Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason at a reception organized by his U.S. publisher, St. Martin’s Minotaur. That was the first time I’d actually talked with this talented writer. I had been on hand to see him win the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger Award in 2005 for his novel Silence of the Grave, but as I hadn’t yet read his work at the time, I didn’t feel inclined to introduce myself. During last month’s reception in Baltimore, however, I managed to gush a bit (perhaps more than a bit) in Indridason’s presence. It turned out that his English was very good, though I did speak a bit slower than usual. Indridason (shown on the left in this photo, with yours truly) was very gracious and we discussed our mutual sadness at the loss of his erstwhile English translator, poet Bernard Scudder, who died last year. The author said he’d looked on Scudder as a friend, so was totally shocked when he heard that Scudder had passed away at such a young age (53).

For me, it was a magical moment to speak with a novelist whose wonderfully melancholic fiction has haunted me over the last few years--ever since that CWA awards ceremony, in fact. Right after that event, I bought Indridason’s first English-translated novel, Jar City (aka Tainted Blood), to find out what all the fuss was about. It turned out to be one of the greatest police procedurals I’ve ever read. Jar City introduces a captivating trio of investigators, led by Reykjavik Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson but also featuring criminology graduate Sigurdur Óli and policewoman Elínborg. In Jar City, those three go hunting for the murderer of an old man named Holberg. But the yarn is not as simple as that, because Holberg was an evil man, with a legacy of harming many people within his insular community. Jar City, I should note in passing, is also one of the saddest and bleakest novels I’ve ever read.

Indridason’s subsequent works--including Arctic Chill (2008), The Draining Lake (2007), and Voices (2006)--have been quite brilliant, too. But like my first kiss, I still recall Jar City most vividly and fondly. It is one of the few books that actually made me cry.

Given my interest in this writer, I was pleased to see that the Iceland Review, in its lengthy new feature about the phenomenal international success of Icelandic crime novelists, pays attention first and foremost to Indridason:
Since 1997 over 70 crime novels have been published by Icelandic authors (relative to population, that’s the equivalent of 15,000 crime novels being published every year in the UK) and they are topping the bestseller lists year in, year out. Some of these authors are being translated into as many as 30 languages.

Arnaldur Indridason, considered by many to be both the instigator of the trend and its most skilful proponent, has won Britain’s coveted Crime Writer’s Association ‘Gold Dagger’ as well as the Scandinavian ‘Glass Key’ award twice. “Arnaldur is a pioneer,” says crime author Stefan Máni Sigthórsson, “his success is good for all of us. He has created a readership and put Icelandic crime fiction on the map.” And while Indridason’s international recognition may be significant (he’s sold more than four million books worldwide), equally noteworthy is the fact that within the last few years seven out of the ten most borrowed books in Iceland’s own National Library were written by him. “A pattern emerged of people who had never even been to a library showing up and asking for crime fiction. Literature seemed as though it was finally becoming democratized!” says Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir, a writer and librarian at Reykjavík’s City Library.
Read more from the Iceland Review here.


Anonymous said...

Do I not understand correctly that you should be calling him Arnaldur, not Indridison? Don't they go by the first name, not the patrinymic in Iceland? Check out the catalog at the Rekyavik Library, if you have questions about this.

Ali Karim said...

Thanks for that, because I had difficulty pronoucing his name, it is easier to use the more formal Mr Indridisaon - plus addressing someone in that manner is a sign of respect, and his work commands mine.