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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Outrage. Arnaldur Indridason. Anna Yates (Translation). Harvill Secker (2011)

A gripping and slow burning crime story that slowly releases its terrible secrets. A man is found murdered in his apartment, there is no sign of a break in, the victim was wearing a t-shirt that did not appear to belong to him and there was a woman's shawl under the bed. Detective Elinborg leads the investigation which very rapidly goes nowhere. The victim was extremely secretive and there were no witnesses. When Elinborg does find a possible witness she is very unreliable. Still a line of investigation that includes the rape of a woman and the disappearance of a young woman many years before starts to emerge. A suspect is identified and the case heads for a bitter and dark conclusion.
The story is very skillfully paced and structured, the story threads lop and flow across each other until they are carefully and sharply woven together. The reveals are very well staged and the dark undercurrent come to the surface in a very satisfactory way. The investigation is orderly, logical and very determined. The final unraveling  is done with considerable and quiet force.
Arnaldur Indridason  does a number of unexpected things in this story, he gives the victims of sexual assault a chance to be fully rounded characters rather than be locked into victim hood. They have been battered by the appalling crime they were subjected to, they are not defined by it. This care for the person is equally evident with Detective Elinborg, she is pressed hard by her job and the demands that it makes on her. She has a credibly mixed home life with a loving husband and some strife with one of her sons. She is never the cliche of a hard worn police officer, she is doubtful and dedicated, trying to make the correct decisions. She also has a strong professional care and strength, she is open minded enough to trap an elusive and vital clue.The rest of the cast are given the same care and attention and as the coils of the plot tighten around themselves respond in credible and engaging ways.
The murder victim remains a shadow at the heart of the book until the investigation starts to stir up long hidden actions and he starts to come into dreadful focus. The final portion of the book is a triumph of storytelling as the past is dragged into the present and the dangling threads are tied up. Arnaldur Indridason has an unflinching eye for responses to evil, they way that it can be easier to look away and pretend and then how maintaining the pretense becomes and end in itself. This is a very unsettling and engrossing book, a pleasure to read. The translation is transparent, there Icelandic context is vivid and direct, there is no sense that it is being filtered in anyway.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Certain Justice. P.D. James.Penguin Books (1997)

This is a beautifully constructed and engaging crime novel. Venetia Aldridge successfully defends a man against a murder charge. She is poised for another professional advance when her daughter reveals that she has become engaged to the man Venetia has defended, a man Venetia believes to be a murderer. As Venetia tries to prevent the engagement she is found murdered in her office. Commander Adam Dalgliesh investigates the death and discovers that there are multiple suspects and motives. The plot reveals are perfectly staged and the slow, cold unwinding of the story is gripping. The final revelations are stark and satisfying.
This is a purposefully unhurried book; the set up for the murder of Venetia Aldridge is long and extensive. It creates a vivid picture of a proud, compelling and very unpleasant character. Venetia is never monstrous in her dealings, she is hard and unflinching, lacking in any human sympathy to cloak her cold brilliance. When she turns to others for help she reaps a bitter harvest, which does not spare anyone. Her male colleagues are as unsympathetic as Venetia, they have a mixture of small cowardice in them, which her presence magnifies and makes them look shabby by comparison.
P.D. James has written a wonderful modern version of a revengers tale, where the revenge, initially appearing justified becomes a greater outrage than the first offence. With a stubbornly flinty character like Venetia Aldridge, this is a very considerable feat. The plot slowly becomes clear through the investigation of the police team and the terrible consequences of revenge become clear. The cast are wonderfully realised, they are, for the most part, unlikeable, they all possess a clear vigour and individual life. They are not shadows or puppets, they move across each other with force and weight. The impact of the many crimes in the story is forceful and vivid. Written with a tightly controlled ferocity, this sharply and sourly satisfying book is a great read.