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Jar City: A Reykjavi­k Thriller Paperback – September 19, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 323 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When a lone septuagenarian is murdered in his apartment in the Nordurmýri district of Reykjavík, detective inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is called in, along with partner Sigurdur Óli and female colleague Elínborg. Everyone is related to everyone else in Iceland and refer to one another by first name, even formally. Erlendur is about 50, long divorced, with two kids in varying degrees of drug addiction. The victim, a man called Holberg, turns out to have been a nasty piece of work, and Erlendur is disgusted by the series of rapes Holberg apparently committed. The rapes and the deaths of a number of young women may be connected, and the search brings Erlendur to the forensic lab, whose old "jar city," since disbanded, held research organs. Meanwhile, Erlendur's daughter, Eva Lind, is pregnant and still using; she flits in and out of his life angrily, but may be crying out for help. Reykjavík's physicality, and the fact that crimes are relatively rare in Iceland, gives things a defamiliarizing cast. The writing, plot and resolution are nicely done, but remain fully within genre boundaries. (Oct. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

It's hardly surprising that there is a thriving crime-fiction scene in Iceland (insular worlds with forbidding climates breed crime quite nicely); it is surprising, on the other hand, that it's taken until now for any Icelandic mysteries to penetrate the U.S. market. We're off to a fast start with this gripping procedural starring Inspector Erlendur Sveinnson, a veteran detective with the Reykjavik police. Murder is relatively rare in Reykjavik, and it is usually solved easily (crimes of passion are the norm). This time, though, there are no easy answers. The brutal killing of a lonely pensioner seems inexplicable until Erlendur (Icelanders always address one another by first name) begins to track back through the man's life, uncovering not only a plethora of dirty secrets but also a genealogical trail whose tentacles appear to stretch throughout the country (in Iceland, "everyone seemed related or connected in some way"). There is a Ross Macdonald element to all this rummaging in familial closets, but the emotional pain Erlendur feels as he gets closer to the truth recalls Madeleine Nabb and Donna Leon. A powerful, psychologically acute procedural drama. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st Picador Ed Oct. 2006/ 1st Pr. edition (October 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312426380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312426385
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (323 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary Griffiths on July 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've never come across an Icelandic murder mystery before, and wasn't sure what to expect. But this tightly drawn police procedural turned out to be a rare treat. Reyjavik police inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is called to investigate the apparent murder of "Holberg", an elderly man found lying dead in his basement flat with his skull bashed-in. Erlendur has little to go on - Holberg led a solitary life and there were no witnesses. But an obscure three-word note apparently left behind by the murderer, and an unidentified photo of the grave of a child long since buried, lead Erlender and his CID team down a complex path of murder, rape, and, surprisingly, genetically transmitted oncological diseases. Holberg, as Erlendur partner Sigurdar Oli dryly points out, "was no model citizen."

In a setting sure to dismay The Icelandic Bureau of Tourism, "Jar City" features bleak urban settings with apartments built on swamps and more rain than "Blade Runner". Combined with a Scandinavian brand of stoic fatalism, the end result is a deeper shade of noir uncommon in standard pop fiction. Absent from "Jar City" are the annoying comic book cardboard super-characters with super model looks and Ph.D. brains quipping witty one-liners. Author Arnaldur Indridason's Erlendur, the grizzled and crime-hardened cynic, leads a solitary life only a step away from the criminals he pursues, bringing to mind Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko or Ian Rankin's John Rebus. And like the best of Rankin or Smith, "Jar City" is an intelligent, skillfully crafted murder mystery, well paced, well plotted, and well read. Take a step off the well-beaten track and give this little jewel a try.
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Format: Hardcover
One of my major problems with many police procedurals is that the plots often go completely off the deep end and become wildly improbable messes (among Scandinavian authors, I think Henning Mankell is frequently guilty of this). So, it's somewhat refreshing to come across a relatively straightforward story like this award-winning series debut from Iceland. In it, we are introduced to Detective Inspector Erlendur, a classic 50ish, divorced, rumpled, morose, tactless, and running-to-seed character who nonetheless possesses the requisite instinct to be a top detective. Although he lacks some of the perfunctory traits often assigned to such characters (for example, he isn't a gourmand, or jazz aficionado, or anything like that), he's very much in the mold of Sejer, Rebus, Resnick, and other such policemen protagonists.

We meet Erlendur as he is called in to investigate the apparent murder of an elderly man in Reykjavik. It doesn't take long for the police to discover that the old man was a nasty character who had been accused of rape almost 40 years ago. With little to go on, other than the possibility that it was a random break-in gone wrong, Erlendur leads his team deep into the past, to try and uncover who might have had a motive for killing the old man. The further they dig, the more nasty secrets they uncover, and the more they must engage in very uncomfortable interviews that dredge up hidden pain. The plot and solution hinge on an aspect of Icelandic society that is rather unique, and it's nice to see the author taking advantage of this to good effect. Another subplot (which is rather extraneous) involves a runaway bride, and meanwhile, Erlendur must also try to deal with his drug addict daughter who flits in and out of his life.
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Format: Hardcover
Iceland native Arnaldur Indridason's "Jar City" is an outstanding police procedural written in a style reminiscent of the superb Scandinavian crime authors Mankell and Wahloo & Sjowall.

Indridason's protagonist Reykjavik police inspector Erlendur is summoned to investigate the bludgeoning murder of a reclusive old man named Holberg is his foul smelling basement flat. Aided by his colleagues Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg they discover a mysterious note on the corpse and a black and white photo of a gravesite.

Erlendur meticulously begins to unravel clues that enable him to gain insight into the identity of the victim. It is determined that Holberg, a truck driver had a sordid past, being accused by not convicted of rape many years ago. As Erlendur peels away more layers of Holberg's past he realizes that there are connections to other unsolved and unreported`criminal acts. Following these leads he is able through modern genetic techniques in criminology to navigate his way towards solving this atypical case.

Indridason sucessfully endows a sense of believability to his characters with a considerable degree of developement to their personnae. Eldendur is portrayed as an "everyman" not a superhero. He's a fiftyish long divorced father of two in declining health, who struggles with the fact that both of his kids are drug addicts.

Indridason creates a sense of reality in his portrayal and gives us a taste of the lifestyle in the remote confines of Iceland.
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I'll say off the bat that I'm currently reading the sequel to Jar City, Silence of the Grave, and finding it pretty good. But Jar City: not so much.

Jar City isn't terrible, but it seems to me to suffer from two flaws. First, the plot is implausibly complex. The basic premise behind it--a kind of biomedical detective story--is clever enough. But the chain of evidence that leads the protagonist Erlendur ultimately to the murderer is torturous. Author Indridason himself must sense this, because he has Erlendur's subordinate cops, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, questioning the wisdom of their boss's dogged insistence on following up on flimsy clues. At the end of the day, Indridason wants to portray Erlendur as a sage cop with a good nose. But the reader, along with Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, is left incredulous.

Second, the characters never really come alive. Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli have little more than walk-on roles, and Erlendur himself, a middle-aged man riddled with regrets and angst, never quite reveals himself to the reader. At the end of the novel, the impression he leaves is visual--rumpled suit and hair, muddy shoes, etc--rather than psychological. Even his relationship with his addict (and pregnant) daughter Eva Lind never quite develops. And since what seems to drive Erlendur in this case is empathy with a long-dead little girl who was an indirect victim of a crime, you'd think that Indridason would've more fully played out the relationship between father and daughter.

Still, perhaps Indridason intends to develop his characters incrementally as the series of novels describing their adventures unfolds. And the plot of Silence of the Grave so far seems much more plausible. So it's worth sticking with Indridason a while longer.
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