A Guide to Arnaldur Indridason’s Detective Erlendur
Features, by Jeremy Megraw
Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is a brilliant cop, but also a gloomy and thoroughly anti-social figure who guards his privacy jealously. When he’s not doggedly pursuing a case, he is hunkered down at home brooding over its details. He passes his solitary time reading his strange library of papers about people lost in the wilds of Iceland. Why? Because the ghosts of his past give him no quarter.
Created by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason (pictured above), Detective Erlendur is as enigmatic as they come. His exploits have captivated fans through 11 novels, of which nine have been translated into English. Although Strange Shores wrapped up the original series, a prequel series featuring a younger Erlendur will tell us about his earlier cases. We thought it would be a good time write a guide to the detective, and hopefully it’ll clear up any questions you have about the series and which ones are available in English.
One man and his past
The childhood loss of his little brother during a snowstorm, for which he blames himself, is still a permanent presence in Erlendur’s life. He goes on an annual pilgrimage to his birthplace to continue the search for the boy’s body in the rugged hills. He also feels guilty over his own indifference towards his children after his marriage failed so many years ago. As the series progresses, Eva Lind and Sindri, who are now adults with their own problems, gradually become part of his life. And, he reluctantly comes to terms with his past, at his own speed, with his trademark stubbornness.
Erlendur is equal parts frustrating and endearing. And we are no less concerned for his partners Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, about whom we learn a great deal in the later books. When Erlendur disappears on an extended sabbatical in the wilderness of his childhood, they each take a central role in one book a piece.
Cold and unforgiving
Set in Reykjavik, and across Iceland’s stony, unforgiving landscape, the books create a strong impression, reflecting the silent, glacial progress of Erendur’s battle with his own inner storms. His investigations provide rich insight into Icelandic culture, old and new. We hear a lot about certain issues – the criminal justice system, nationalism, racism, immigration, corporate greed, the welfare state. One book even touches on genetic disease. The small gene pool is a concern in this small, isolated country. These are narrative elements shared across the Nordic noir sub-genre.