Inspector Erlendur returns in this international Bestseller
Following an earthquake, the water level of an Icelandic lake suddenly falls, revealing a skeleton. Inspector Erlendur's investigation takes him back to the Cold War era, when bright, left-wing students in Iceland were sent to study in the "heavenly state" of Communist East Germany. Teeming with spies and informants, though, their "heavenly state" becomes a nightmare of betrayal and murder. Brilliantly weaving international espionage and a chilling cold case investigation, The Draining Lake is Arnaldur Indridason at his best.
About the Author
ARNALDUR INDRIÐASON won the Glass Key award for Best Nordic Crime Novel for both Jar City and Silence of the Grave. He lives in Reykjavík.
Read an Excerpt
The Draining Lake
By Arnaldur Indridason, Bernard Scudder
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Arnaldur Indridason
All rights reserved.
She stood motionless for a long time, staring at the bones as if it should not be possible for them to be there. Any more than for her.
At first she thought it was another sheep that had drowned in the lake, until she moved closer and saw the skull half-buried in the lake bed and the shape of a human skeleton. The ribs protruded from the sand and beneath them could be seen the outlines of the pelvis and thigh bones. The skeleton was lying on its left side so she could see the right side of the skull, the empty eye sockets and three teeth in the upper jaw. One had a large silver filling. There was a wide hole in the skull itself, about the size of a matchbox, which she instinctively thought could have been made by a hammer. She bent down and stared at the skull. With some hesitation she explored the hole with her finger. The skull was full of sand.
The thought of a hammer crossed her mind again and she shuddered at the idea of someone being struck over the head with one. But the hole was too large to have been left by a hammer. She decided not to touch the skeleton again. Instead, she took out her mobile and dialled emergency services.
She wondered what to say. Somehow this was so completely unreal. A skeleton so far out in the lake, buried on its sandy bed. Nor was she on her best form. Visions of hammers and matchboxes. She found it difficult to concentrate. Her thoughts were roaming all over the place and she had great trouble rounding them up again.
It was probably because she was hung-over. After planning to spend the day at home she had changed her mind and gone to the lake. She had persuaded herself that she must check the instruments. She was a scientist. She had always wanted to be a scientist and knew that the measurements had to be monitored carefully. But she had a splitting headache and her thoughts were far from logical. The National Energy Authority had held its annual dinner dance the night before and, as was sometimes the way, she had had too much to drink.
She thought about the man lying in her bed at home and knew that it was on his account that she had hauled herself off to the lake. She did not want to be there when he woke up and hoped that he would be gone when she returned. He had come back to her flat after the dance but was not very exciting. No more than the others she had met since her divorce. He hardly talked about anything except his CD collection and carried on long after she had given up feigning any interest. Then she fell asleep in a living-room chair. When she woke up she saw that he had got into her bed, where he was sleeping with his mouth open, wearing tiny underpants and black socks.
'Emergency services,' a voice said over the line.
'Hello – I'd like to report that I've found some bones,' she said. 'There's a skull with a hole in it.'
She grimaced. Bloody hangover! Who says that sort of thing? A skull with a hole in it. She remembered a phrase from a children's rhyme about a penny with a hole in it. Or was it a shilling?
'Your name, please,' said the neutral emergency-services voice.
She straightened out her jumbled thoughts and stated her name.
'Where is it?'
'Lake Kleifarvatn. North side.'
'Did you pull it up in a fishing net?'
'No. It's buried on the bed of the lake.'
'Are you a diver?'
'No, it's standing up out of the bed. Ribs and the skull.'
'It's on the bottom of the lake?'
'So how can you see it?'
'I'm standing here looking at it.'
'Did you bring it to dry land?'
'No, I haven't touched it,' she lied instinctively.
The voice on the telephone paused.
'What kind of crap is this?' the voice said at last, angrily. 'Is this a hoax? You know what you can get for wasting our time?'
'It's not a hoax. I'm standing here looking at it.'
'So you can walk on water, I suppose?'
'The lake's gone,' she said. 'There's no water any more. Just the bed. Where the skeleton is.'
'What do you mean, the lake's gone?'
'It hasn't all gone, but it's dry now where I'm standing. I'm a hydrologist with the Energy Authority. I was recording the water level when I discovered this skeleton. There's a hole in the skull and most of the bones are buried in the sand on the bottom. I thought it was a sheep at first.'
'We found one the other day that had drowned years ago. When the lake was bigger.'
There was another pause.
'Wait there,' said the voice reluctantly. 'I'll send a patrol car.'
She stood still by the skeleton for a while, then walked over to the shore and measured the distance. She was certain the bones had not surfaced when she was taking measurements at the same place a fortnight earlier. Otherwise she would have seen them. The water level had dropped by more than a metre since then.
The scientists from the Energy Authority had been puzzling over this conundrum ever since they'd noticed that the water level in Lake Kleifarvatn was falling rapidly. The authority had set up its first automatic surface-level monitor in 1964 and one of the hydrologists' tasks was to check the measurements. In the summer of 2000 the monitor seemed to have broken. An incredible amount of water was draining from the lake every day, twice the normal volume.
She walked back to the skeleton. She was itching to take a better look, dig it up and brush off the sand, but imagined that the police would be none too pleased at that. She wondered whether it was male or female and vaguely recalled having read somewhere, probably in a detective story, that their skeletons were almost identical: only the pelvises were different. Then she remembered someone telling her not to believe anything she read in detective stories. Since the skeleton was buried in the sand she couldn't see the pelvis, and it struck her that she would not have known the difference anyway.
Her hangover intensified and she sat down on the sand beside the bones. It was a Sunday morning and the occasional car drove past the lake. She imagined they were families out for a Sunday drive to Herdísarvík and on to Selvogur. That was a popular and scenic route, across the lava field and hills and past the lake down to the sea. She thought about the families in the cars. Her own husband had left her when the doctors ruled out their ever having children together. He remarried shortly afterwards and now had two lovely children. He had found happiness.
All that she had found was a man she barely knew, lying in her bed in his socks. Decent men became harder to find as the years went by. Most of them were either divorced like her or, even worse, had never been in a relationship at all.
She looked woefully at the bones, half-buried in the sand, and was close to tears.
About an hour later a police car approached from Hafnarfjördur. It was in no hurry, lazily threading its way along the road towards the lake. This was May and the sun was high in the sky, reflecting off the smooth surface of the water. She sat on the sand watching the road and when she waved to the car it pulled over. Two police officers got out, looked in her direction and walked towards her.
They stood over the skeleton in silence for a long time until one of them poked a rib with his foot.
'Do you reckon he was fishing?' he said to his colleague.
'On a boat, you mean?'
'Or waded here.'
'There's a hole,' she said, looking at each of them in turn. 'In the skull.'
One officer bent down.
'Well,' he said.
'He could have fallen over in the boat and broken his skull,' his colleague said.
'It's full of sand,' said the first one.
'Shouldn't we notify CID?' the other asked.
'Aren't most of them in America?' his colleague said, looking up into the sky. 'At a crime conference?'
The other officer nodded. Then they stood quietly over the bones for a while until one of them turned to her.
'Where's all the water gone?' he asked.
'There are various theories,' she said. 'What are you going to do? Can I go home now?'
After exchanging glances they took down her name and thanked her, without apologising for having kept her waiting. She didn't care. She wasn't in a hurry. It was a beautiful day by the lake and she would have enjoyed it even more in the company of her hangover if she had not chanced upon the skeleton. She wondered whether the man in the black socks had left her flat and certainly hoped so. Looked forward to renting a video that evening and snuggling up under a blanket in front of the television.
She looked down at the bones and at the hole in the skull.
Maybe she would rent a good detective film.CHAPTER 2
The police officers notified their duty sergeant in Hafnarfjördur about the skeleton in the lake; it took them some time to explain how it could be out in the middle of the lake yet still on dry land. The sergeant phoned the chief inspector at the Police Commissioner's office and informed him of the find, wanting to know whether or not they would take over the case.
'That's something for the identification committee,' the chief inspector said. 'I think I have the right man for the job.'
'We sent him off on holiday – he's got about five years' leave owing to him, I think – but I know he'll be pleased to have something to do. He's interested in missing persons. Likes digging things up.'
The chief inspector said goodbye, picked up the phone again and asked for Erlendur Sveinsson to be contacted and sent off to Lake Kleifarvatn with a small team of detectives.
Erlendur was absorbed in a book when the telephone rang. He had tried to shut out the relentless May sun as best he could. Thick curtains covered the living-room windows and he had closed the door to the kitchen, where there were no proper curtains. He had made it dark enough around him to have to switch on the lamp by his chair.
Erlendur knew the story well. He had read it many times before. It was an account of a journey in the autumn of 1868 from Skaftártunga along the mountain trail north of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Several people had been travelling together to a fishing camp in Gardar, in the south-west of Iceland. One was a young man aged seventeen whose name was Davíd. Although the men were seasoned travellers and familiar with the route, a perilous storm got up soon after they set off and they never returned. An extensive search was mounted but no trace of them was found. It was not until ten years later that their skeletons were discovered by chance beside a large sand dune, south of Kaldaklof. The men had spread blankets over themselves and were lying huddled against each other.
Erlendur looked up in the gloom and imagined the teenager in the group, fearful and worried. He had seemed to know what was in the offing before he set out; local farmers remarked how he had shared out his childhood toys among his brothers and sisters, saying that he would not be back to reclaim them.
Putting down his book, Erlendur stood up stiffly and answered the telephone. It was Elínborg.
'Will you be coming?' was the first thing she said.
'Do I have any choice?' Erlendur said. Elínborg had for many years been compiling a book of recipes which was now finally being published.
'Oh my God, I'm so nervous. What do you think people will make of it?'
'I can still barely switch on a microwave,' Erlendur said. 'So maybe I'm not ...'
'The publishers loved it,' Elínborg said. 'And the photos of the dishes are brilliant. They commissioned a special photographer to take them. And there's a separate chapter on Christmas food ...'
'Were you calling about anything in particular?'
'A skeleton in Lake Kleifarvatn,' Elínborg said, lowering her voice when the conversation moved away from her cookery book. 'I'm supposed to fetch you. The lake's shrunk or something and they found some bones there this morning. They want you to take a look.'
'The lake's shrunk?'
'Yes, I didn't quite get that bit.'
Sigurdur Óli was standing by the skeleton when Erlendur and Elínborg arrived at the lake. A forensics team was on the way. The officers from Hafnarfjördur were fiddling around with yellow plastic tape to cordon off the area, but had discovered they had nothing to attach it to. Sigurdur Óli watched their efforts and thought he could understand why village-idiot jokes were always set in Hafnarfjördur.
'Aren't you on holiday?' he asked Erlendur as he walked over across the black sand.
'Yes,' Erlendur said. 'What have you been up to?'
'Same old,' Sigurdur Óli said in English. He looked up at the road where a large jeep from one of the TV stations was parking at the roadside. 'They sent her home,' he said with a nod at the policemen from Hafnarfjördur. 'The woman who found the bones. She was taking some measurements here. We can ask her afterwards why the lake's dried up. Under normal circumstances we ought to be up to our necks on this spot.'
'Is your shoulder all right?'
'Yes. How's Eva Lind doing?'
'She hasn't done a runner yet,' Erlendur said. 'I think she regrets the whole business, but I'm not really sure.'
He knelt down and examined the exposed part of the skeleton. He put his finger in the hole in the skull and rubbed one of the ribs.
'He's been hit over the head,' he said and stood up again.
'That's rather obvious,' Elínborg said sarcastically. 'If it is a he,' she added.
'Rather like a fight, isn't it?' Sigurdur Óli said. 'The hole's just above the right temple. Maybe it only took one good punch.'
'We can't rule out that he was alone on a boat here and fell against the side,' Erlendur said, looking at Elínborg. 'That tone of yours, Elínborg, is that the style you use in your cookery book?'
'Of course, the smashed piece of bone would have been washed away a long time ago,' she said, ignoring his question.
'We need to dig out the bones,' Sigurdur Óli said. 'When do forensics get here?'
Erlendur saw more cars pulling up by the roadside and presumed that word about the discovery of the skeleton had reached the news-desks.
'Won't they have to put up a tent?' he said, still eyeing the road.
'Yes,' Sigurdur Óli said. 'They're bound to bring one.'
'You mean he was fishing on the lake alone?' Elínborg asked.
'No, that's just one possibility,' Erlendur said.
'But what if someone hit him?'
'Then it wasn't an accident,' Sigurdur Óli said.
'We don't know what happened,' Erlendur said. 'Maybe someone hit him. Maybe he was out fishing with someone who suddenly produced a hammer. Maybe there were only the two of them. Maybe they were three, five.'
'Or,' Sigurdur Óli chipped in, 'he was hit over the head in the city and brought out to the lake to dispose of his body.'
'How could they have made him sink?' Elínborg said. 'You need something to weight a body down in the water.'
'Is it an adult?' Sigurdur Óli said.
'Tell them to keep their distance,' Erlendur said as he watched the reporters clambering down to the lake bed from the road. A light aircraft approached from the direction of Reykjavík and flew low over the lake; they could see someone holding a camera.
Sigurdur Óli went over to the reporters. Erlendur walked down to the lake. The ripples lapped lazily against the sand as he watched the afternoon sun glittering on the water's surface and wondered what was happening. Was the lake draining through the actions of man or was it nature at work? It was as if the lake itself wanted to uncover a crime. Did it conceal more misdeeds where it was deeper and still dark and calm?
He gazed up at the road. Forensics technicians wearing white overalls were hurrying across the sand in his direction. They were carrying a tent and bags full of mysteries. He looked skywards and felt the warmth of the sun on his face. Maybe it was the sun that was drying up the lake.
The first discovery that the forensics team made when they began clearing the sand from the skeleton with their little trowels and fine-haired brushes was a rope that had slipped between the ribs and lay by the spinal column then under the skeleton, where it vanished into the sand.
The hydrologist's name was Sunna and she had snuggled up under a blanket on the sofa. The tape was in the video player, the American thriller The Bone Collector. The man in the black socks had gone. He had left behind two telephone numbers which she flushed down the toilet. The film was just starting when the doorbell rang. She was forever being disturbed. If it wasn't cold-callers it was people selling dried fish doorto-door, or boys asking for empty bottles who lied that they were collecting for the Red Cross. The bell clanged again. Still she hesitated. Then with a sigh she threw off the blanket.
Excerpted from The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason, Bernard Scudder. Copyright © 2004 Arnaldur Indridason. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Reading Group Guide
About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about The Draining Lake are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Draining Lake.
1. How do Erlendur, Sigudur Oli, and Elinbourg piece together the clues that they found with the skeleton? What if they weren't able to determine any information about the skeleton itself? Do you think they could have solved the case on the basis of the Russian listening device alone?
2. Erlendur continues to be haunted by the ghosts of his past, as his dead brother, his daughter Eva Lind, and his son Sindri force him to confront his painful memories. Does Erlendur's job as a detective who is obsessed with missing persons help him to come to terms with his past? Or is he merely torturing himself?
3. What kind of a place was Iceland during the Cold War? How might the Cold War have been different in Iceland than it was in Europe or the United States?
4. Which foreign embassies are most helpful to the investigation? Why were some embassies eager to help, while others were uncooperative? Was it just bureaucracy, or did certain embassies have a vested interest in how the case proceeded?
5. Was Tomas naive in his idealism for Soviet communism? Would he have been able to see the system for what it was without Illona's help, or would he have remained a hardliner?
6. Erlendur has had enough of Eva Lind's drug addiction, and he was beginning to become indifferent to her struggles. But what his son Sindri told him about their childhood makes him feel differently. What did Sindri tell him? Why do you think Eva Lind and Sindri had such different feelings about their father?
7. Erlendur's old boss, Marion Briem continues to be on the scene, despite his illnesses. Why is Erlendurso drawn to Marion even though he can't say he actually likes him? Does he pity him because he's afraid he'll end up like Marion? How did Marion's tips further the investigation?
8. Erlendur was frustrated with Niels, the man who initially led the case to find the missing salesman back in the seventies. He thought Niels was lazy and indifferent. What makes Erlendur a better detective than Niels? How does Erlendur's ability to identify with the victims give him an edge over Niels?
9. Indridason carefully weaves contemporary and historic storylines, alternating between them. Discuss some of the clever ways in which the author tells the story and releases information to the reader, and how this heightens the suspense.
10. The woman Asta, who was still waiting after all these years for her Leopold to come home, knew nothing about his true identity. Why was she unable to move on and to start a new life without him? Was he just using Asta for a cover, or do you think he really loved her?
11. When Tomas finds out that Lothar is in Reykjavik, he trails him and finds Emil, who provokes him to a blind rage. If you were in Tomas' place, what would you have done when you first saw Lothar? Who would you blame more, Emil or Lothar?
12. Do you think that Erlendur had any sympathy for Tomas? What did the two have in common? How were they different? Is Erlendur capable of forming intimate attachments with other people outside of his cases?
13. Why does the hydrologist who found the body in the beginning reappear in the end? Do you think the man she was with was the same man whom she wanted to avoid in the beginning? If so, why do you think she ended up with him?
14. Emil's denunciation of Ilona eventually led to her death and ruined many lives. But what he did was perfectly in keeping with the law in East Germany at the time. Emil would not have been held accountable for his actions in any court of law. Did Emil deserve what happened to him? Was Tomas justified in killing him? Could there have been any other way that Emil might have been punished for what he had done? Was he capable of feeling remorse for his actions?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After an earth tremor, the water level in an Icelandic lake begins to drop as water drains out through fissures in the lakes bed. Eventually it drops low enough to reveal the skeleton of a murder victim, probably there for a number of years and anchored to a piece of Russian radio equipment. The search for the identity of this person is a fairly lengthy and tedious process but murders and missing perrsons are pretty rare in Iceland where everybody knows everybody. Woven into the murder investigation is the story of idealistic young Icelandic socialists, party members chosen to be educated at university in Leipzig in East Germany, and then also more about Erlendur's own family and his children who flit in and out of his life. Originally published in Icelandic in 2004, the 4th of Indridason's books to be translated into English.
What a great writer he is. Another unique story full of plot, in-depth characters, local atmosphere and Icelandic history.
This is an intriguing mystery set in Iceland and translated to English. When an Icelandic lake starts draining it uncovers a skeleton tied to a piece of Russian spy equipment. There is a parallel story about idealistic Icelandic students and their growing disillusionment with communism as they study at a University in Liepzig in the years after World War II. Both stories are interesting and the police procedural is excellent.
Another wonderful ride by this great Icelandic author. Tomas, from Iceland, goes to the University in Leipzig at the turn of the century and becomes a devoted communist until he meets Ilona and she brings doubts into his mind. His story is woven into the ups and downs of Erlendur's investigation of a skeleton uncovered in a lake because of an earthquake. The woes of his children and his girlfriend continue through this book. Wonderful writing with strong character development and yet the story moves faster than the Icelandic landscape.
Inspector Erlander and his team are called to investigate the appearance of a skeleton chained to a Russian radio transmitter, found at the bottom of a dried lake. The skeleton's identity puzzles the team, and they have virtually no leads to follow up on. All possible clues lead to more questions. Their focus on the Russian radio transmitter leads them to consider the involvement of spies in Iceland during the Cold War but they are stonewalled when they approach the embassies. What emerges through a parallel narrative is a story of student spies and socialist movements through the Eastern European countries in the 1970s. We're given more insight into Erlander's life and relationship with his daughter, and perhaps the start of a relationship with his son.Indridason once again delivers a stunning thriller
Again a nice one by Indridason, but not top notch. Somehow the contemporary stories of Erlendur, his love interest and his children, the investigation and the flashback Leipzig scenes don't really come together.Erlendur is plodding through life, so much is clear. The mystery is solved and the one responsible takes a dramatic step. Why so doesn't become really clear. There are many open ends left for all characters.Midway the pace of the novel slows down a bit, like Indridason doesn't know how to advance the story without giving away too much.A bit disappointing, but a pleasant read for thriller/detective fans and Erlendur-fans all the same.
The story behind Erlendur's Draining Lake investigation begins not with the discovery of bones in a lake bed, but in the 1950s in Leipzig. At that time it was part of the GDR, and students were being recruited to come to the university there to study. Some Icelandic socialist students were part of the recruitment effort -- but many discovered that there was a catch to their free education once they had been there for a while. Flashforward to the present, where a hydrologist examining a lake bed finds bones half buried there and calls police. As it turns out, the body was tied down with an old Soviet listening device, starting Erlendur and his team on an investigation that will take them back to the Cold War years. With very few clues to go on, including the identity of the dead man, Erlendur and his team have their work cut out for them. In the meantime, there's a few hitches in Erlendur's life: seriously drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind has runaway again, and while he's busy worrying about her, his long-estranged son Sindri shows up.Indridason's writing is excellent, as always, and the fleshed-out back story of the students' years in Leipzig is a nice glimpse into the pitfalls of overzealous idealism. Erlendur is a character who has since the outset of this series been portrayed as very human, with real-life problems that don't seem to ever be resolved. The author is able to inject a bit of wry humor into his writing which is often dark and depressing -- there are no warm fuzzies or nice touchy-feely happy endings where everyone goes home happy and satisfied in this series. If that's what you're looking for, then pass on these novels.The Draining Lake is not my favorite of Indridason's novels, but it was still a great read. He continues to follow his pattern of the past's connection to the present, which is one of my favorite motifs in a mystery novel. The book is well written, and my only criticism is that at times things seemed to move very slow. But I still very highly recommend not only this book, but the entire series. You'll want to start with the first book in translation, Jar City, and make your way through all of the books before coming to this one if you want the best reading experience. People who enjoy Scandinavian crime novels will want to read this one, as will people looking for a good mystery novel in general.
Another classic Icelandic mystery by Indriðason. The plot of this story wasn't as dark as some of his previous ones, but it was intriguing. A skeleton is found at the bottom of a draining lake. Later determined to be a man, the skeleton leads them on a chase stretching involving everything from an East German university to Cold War spies in Iceland to the uncovering of forty years worth of lives. Indriðason is a fantastic writer and does an exceptional job of blending the lives of his main characters with the main plot of the book. Another thing I enjoyed was the alternating chapters of the main characters and the killer himself. Indriðason gives use the reasons that led to the eventual death of the skeleton. It's a fascinating story of spying, lies and unsolved mysteries.
Although this was every bit the page turner as the other entries in the Inspector Erlendur series, for some reason this installment didn't grab me as much as the others. Nonetheless I continue to look forward to more books by Indridason as they are translated into English.
"The Draining Lake" by Arnaldur Indridason is an engaging and historically informative mystery that opens with a skeleton that is revealed by the receding waters of Lake Kleifarvatn near Hafnarfjordur in Iceland. Forensics determine the body has been in the lake since at least 1970 and that the cause of death was most likely the blow to head as indicated by the hole in the skull.The police investigation led by Erlendur Sveinsson quickly divides into two tracks: one track follows the disappearance of a farm equipment salesman who left his new car at a train station and vanished into the night; the other track follows the investigating team's efforts to determine why the body was weighed down with a Russian radio transmitter manufactured during the Cold War. Interwoven into these clues are two love stories: one narrated by the anonymous voice of the murderer as he tells his story from the beginning and another love story told by the woman who waited one night for the boyfriend who never showed up, a farm equipment salesman who drove a new Ford Falcon. Also interspersed in the investigative account are insights into the personal lives of Erlendur and his team. The historical background on Iceland's place in the cold war, as well as a glimpse into the various facets of socialism as practiced in Europe after WWII, adds a unique dimension to the intriguing murder plot. The U.S. Cold War involvement in Icelandic politics is particularly fascinating for American readers. All-in-all, "The Draining Lake" provides a very satisfying reading experience for readers of crime fiction. I highly recommend it.
In 'The Draining Lake', Arnaldur Indridason has produced one of the most captivating multilayered books I have read in years. On its face, the book is a police procedural that is exotic only in the sense of its Icelandic setting. Underneath the murder mystery, Indridason gives the reader a stunning and sobering recreation of the East German surveillance society in the 1950's. Indridason incisively describes what pervasive `interactive surveillance' did to people, outwardly and inwardly. Along the way he powerfully describes the power of love and memory. The book opens with the discovery of an old skeleton that has been exposed by the slow draining of a lake near Reykjavik. The skeleton is all the more unusual in that it was tied to and weighed down by an old Soviet radio transmitter. The kind that might have been used by a spy. It has all lain at the bottom of the lake for some thirty years. A second narrative describes life for a group of student Icelanders on scholarship at Leipzig in the 1950's. The students all arrive as devoted socialists. They experience a tightly controlled society where everyone is expected to spy on everyone else. The students' reactions to this totalitarian state vary. Some rebel, some are co-opted, some actively collaborate. Tomas falls in love with Ilona, a Hungarian dissident also attending school in East Germany. Their love, its fate, and Tomas's memory of it dominate this second narrative. Meanwhile, Erlendur Sveinsson and his fellow police detectives begin to slowly unravel the knot and chase the various strands that emerge. (All the while Erlendur deals with his not entirely satisfying personal life.) The strands - and the two narratives - are eventually made to come together. This aspect of the story is a completely satisfying police procedural. The book contains a murder mystery, a spy tale, and a love story, but it is the haunting description of life in East Germany that lifts the reading experience to higher level. And yet, Indridason's characters do not simplistically equate Stalinist regimes with socialism. Indeed, most have retained their ideals years later. A stupendously good read; intelligent and nuanced. Highest recommendation.
In an Icelandic lake which is draining out via recently-opened fissures, a decades-old body is found, head bashed in and weighted down with Soviet-made spy equipment. Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and his team investigate the case, which leads them to a story of Cold War espionage and a group of socialist Icelandic students drawn to study behind the Iron Curtain. The tale is told from two points of view: that of the present-day Inspector as he investigates disappearances from the late 1960s, and that of one of the students, who recalls his disastrous experiences in a 1950s Leipzig under constant interactive surveillance (being spied on by one's friends and family, and being expected to do the same).I find mid-century Communism and espionage depressing and rather dull to read about, but the mystery here is intriguing, and after a while I couldn't put the book down. Overall the translation is good, even idiomatic, although there were a few terms which didn't make the transition to American English very well (I read the U.S. edition). I'll be watching for more of this series, for both the mystery and the insights into life in Iceland.
SynopsisA skeleton is exposed in a drying out lake. The skeleton has an old Russian listening device tied to it. This leads detective Erledur with Elinborg and Siguraur Oli into an investigation into the cold war and what happens to those that are left behind.Analyse/Comments/ThoughtsI really should read more crime stories, especially if they are anything like The Draining Lake. Indridason mixes the past and present easily and the effect is quite powerful as you trace the story of the murderer from the events that led to the crime and the solving of the crime itself. This isn¿t a fast paced thriller. It¿s more reflective and lives up to its tag line of, `What Happens to those Left Behind?¿ especially when we visit the relatives left behind when people go missing.The process of detection keeps you reading as Erledur¿s obsessions with small details leads to some interesting places. We get to find out about Erledur¿s complicated relationships with his son and daughter, his work colleagues, and a woman who hasn¿t left her husband.I enjoyed the mix of flashbacks and present day. In some ways the flashbacks were more insightful as they explored the characters involved in more detail as Erledur is left a bit more of a mystery from beginning to end. Though this could be that this is a part of series and more would be revealed in reading the other books. Not that this spoiled anything as it seems part of his character to be aloof.It was a bit of a slow read as I¿m a little rusty when reading books in translation especially when it came to the names of characters and it took a while to grasp who was who and if they were male or female. The other quirk is some of the more emotional angry scenes that had swearing in them didn¿t quite ring true though this is more a quirk in the language/translation rather than something that ruins the scene.The strongest point for me was not only seeing another country, Iceland, but also getting a small insight into the cold war and its affect.SummaryThe Draining Lake is a reflective and strong crime novel with a clever and thought provoking use of flashbacks, which takes the reader on a journey of a crime from both sides. It also keeps you guessing about who the person in the lake actually is and who killed them. Highly recommended. I¿m looking forward to catching up with Erledur¿s next investigation.
A very clever and eleganty structured thriller, The Draining Lake presents Erlendur - an instinctual and deeply flawed detective, investigating a body found in a lake. The present-day action is interspersed with flashbacks to communist East Germany - the horrors of the stasi and their link to the unidentified corpse, make for thriling reading.
This is the first book I've read by this author and it followed my reading of another Scandianvian crime novel with a very similar structure (Nesbo's Redbreast). That said, I couldn't put it down. The story was slight but there was something in the language and the tone that was so engaging and I look forward to discovering more works by Arnaldur Indridason.
This is the book that inspired my interest in Iceland - a cold, black-soiled place, with a tiny population with an epic history of volcanoes, famines and banishments. A glacier lake in the middle nowhere with bodies in it? That's Icelandic tourism. Communists eating smoked sheep head? That's 20th century Iceland. A misanthropic lead detective whose hobby is finding those who've wandered off into the frozen wilderness? That represents Iceland's historical isolation. A super mom sidekick who writes books on international cuisine and a young underling with credit cards and designer clothes? Modern Icelanders. Arnaldur's style (nicely translated by Bernard Scudder) echoes the stark landscape of the country as well as the brooding sadness of Inspector Erlendur. I was left feeling that Erlendur and Iceland have back-stories more complex than first meets the eye.
A great read by a splendid author
i admit that i am partial to this genre. i happen to think it is a specific art form. this is a crime novel but much more. the depth of characters is amazing. i feel the idiosyncratic culture of iceland is captured. subtle, dark and brooding. there are a few other writers specifically hitting this sweet spot. extremely complex characters living in specific locations whose flavor is fully revealed. Denise Mina. Steig Larsson. Michael Chabon has two under his belt. Patricia Highsmith did this awhile back.
Just outside Reykjavik, Iceland, the draining of Lake Kleifarvatn uncovers a skeleton tied to a Cold War Russian radio device. Police inspector Erlendur and his subordinates Elinborg and Oli investigate what is obviously a homicide. With a hole in the skull and the technology employed is found that the murdered corpse was dumped in the early 1970s so they seek missing persons¿ cases from that era never solved. === The case haunts Erlendur as does any missing person inquiry because it reminds him of his younger brother who vanished when they were children. As they dig to identify the victim and from there hope to determine who the murderer is , the cops have hope for the former but none for the latter. The culprit could be dead, in Russia, or elsewhere. === The case provides readers with a deep look at the lonely Erlendur, who has spent a lifetime haunted by his sibling¿s vanishing accentuated by the metaphoric ¿disappearance¿ of his two estranged children from his present life. The look back to the Cold War at the University of Leipzig adds depth to the current investigation as well as a fascinating glimpse of academic politics. Although the personal woes of Elinborg and Oli feel intrusive, police procedural fans will enjoy the latest Iceland investigation (see VOICES, JAR CITY and SILENCE OF THE GRAVE). === Harriet Klausner