Arnaldur Indridason [Trans. Bernard Scudder]
St. Martin’s Minotaur
The Icelandic phonebook is alphabetized by first name. This piece of cultural trivia, noted in Arnaldur Indridason’s first novel, introduces the unfamiliar reader to the pretense of Iceland: a self-contained, cozy environment where the news of a single murder can spread throughout the country by phone, where 17 disappearances in one year is considered ‘an awful lot.’ Each of Indridason’s three novels attempts to reconcile this picturesque façade with the frank brutality that stodgy Inspector Erlendur encounters on a daily basis. He has accomplished this through compassionate hindsight — Erlendur searches for explanations, not motives. Voices’ stabbing of a hotel Santa Claus fits nicely into this paradigm: a seemingly blameless victim, an unreconciled past and a cast of taciturn suspects who all have something to hide. But Indridason miscalculates in trying to complicate his equation further. Voices introduces a myriad of similarly victimized characters, attempting to humanize them through an excess of collective suffering. It’s an earnest effort, but one that reveals authorial reductiveness. Indridason’s pity, not empathy, defines Voices — a knee-jerk reaction in the face of realities that he wants to relate to, but doesn’t know how.