Monday, June 3, 2013

I is for Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson

House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson is my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet at Mysteries in Paradise this week. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter I.

Ingólfsson is an Icelandic writer of crime fiction. This book was translated by Andrew Cauthery and Björg Árnadóttir.

The book is set in 1973 in Reykjavik, Iceland. The death being investigated is that of a middle-aged man who has been shot in his home, a very fine home which was built in the early twentieth century. There are several very unusual things about this murder that hinder the police investigation. This novel tells the story of the dead man, Jacob Kieler Junior, but we also learn of his father's life, which is told to us partly through diary entries. I found this to be a very interesting approach. I like that the story of both men is revealed gradually.


The police crew is Johann Palsson, a member of the detective division who has forensic training; Halldór Benjaminsson, a senior officer in the detective division; Erlendur Haraldsson, a business-school graduate who has expertise in financial matters; Hrefna Hilmarsdóttir, a female detective who often interviews people; Egill Ingólfsson, a member of the team who is often too rough with people; Marteinn Karlsson, an inexperienced new recruit who primarily assists Johann in the forensic work.

What did I like about House of Evidence?

I enjoyed the way the story was told. The story is relayed partially through excerpts from a diary which was written between the years of 1910 and 1945. The remainder is the story of the investigation of a murder, and it follows the members of the detective division as they perform their duties. I enjoyed the details of the investigation related to forensics especially.

Through Jacob Kieler Senior's diaries, we get a look at the Danish-Icelandic relationship and the movements toward separation from Denmark. It also covers the years of World War II. Jacob Senior spent much time in other countries, giving him a good command of both English and German. In fact, he marries an English woman. I liked the picture of Germany's rise to power from his limited point of view.

At the beginning of the book there is an excerpt from The Icelandic Encyclopedia.
Iceland's first and only railway was built in Reykjavik in 1913, with two locomotives running between Öskjuhlíð and the shore (a distance of two miles), conveying materials for construction projects at Reykjavik harbor from 1913 through 1917. It was decommissioned in 1928, and the last tracks were removed during the Second World War.
There are currently no railways in Iceland. Jacob Senior was a man very interested in bringing railways to Iceland. It affects many of his decisions he makes in his life. The author has a B.Sc. degree in civil engineering and this may be why all the information about Jacob Senior's education and his plans for building a railway seem very authentic.

The book has a map of Iceland with proposed railroad routes connecting cities. It was not that easy to read in the eBook format of the book, but if you are familiar with Iceland you can follow it. If you click on either of the maps, you can see more detail.




The second map was available on the Wikipedia page for Iceland.

Needless to say, I learned more about Iceland than I already knew, which was not much. Another reason to read more books set in other countries, written by authors from those countries.

It is unusual for me to read standalone crime novels; usually I read books in series. Consequently I was wishing that this book would be followed by further books featuring the various police staff. There were times when I felt that the author's writing was a bit bland and dry, but since I was enjoying reading the story throughout, it wasn't much of a detraction.

Some other reviews of this book:

17 comments:

  1. Yah, another Icelandic mystery. :)

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    1. Scott, It is amazing how much I don't know about Iceland. My knowledge of geography and history is sorely lacking.

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  2. Sounds great, thaks TracyK - the only other Icelandic author of mysteries I've read is Arnaldur Indridason and I rate his stuff very highly.

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    1. Sergio, I just recently got a copy of Indridason's Jar City and finally will be sampling his writing. Glad to hear you like it.

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    2. I really liked JAR CITY a lot and have been recommending it to everyone - look forward to reading what you make of it.

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  3. Tracy - Thanks for this excellent review. This is an author who's name I've heard of but I've never read his work. Looks as though I ought to remedy that.

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    1. Margot, I mainly picked this author over Indridason to read first because House of Evidence was an ebook, and I need to get comfortable with reading ebooks more. I liked this one especially for the sections that were about early twentieth century through World War II.

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  4. Tracy, I was thinking great....another one for the wishlist, but the comment near the end - "bland and dry" has given me the perfect excuse to pass on this one!
    I'll stick with Indridason for my Icelandic reading!
    Glad you like it overall though.

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    1. Col, I am looking forward to reading (and contrasting) Indridason when I can fit him in. I never felt like I was slogging through this book, but it does moves slowly. Some readers complained about extraneous information that did not help the plot, but that did not bother me.

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  5. The first thing that came to my mind on reading your review was that there are too many cops with unpronounceable names. I'll have to figure out which letters are silent! Indian names are not far off in the tongue-twisting department. Does the police crew work together? The only time I read about Iceland (other than sitting with the Atlas occasionally) was when I read a book on the controversial 1972 world chess championship between American prodigy Bobby Fischer and then reigning world champion Boris Spassky of Russia, played out in Reykjavik at the height of the Cold War.

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    1. Prashant, I do have a problem worrying about if I am pronouncing the names correctly, but I did not have a problem keeping up with the characters (as I sometimes do with unfamiliar names).

      Yes, the police crew does work together, although not always well. But it seemed realistic. I liked the look at the different attitudes each had towards the job.

      That book about the chess championship sounds very interesting.

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  6. Have you read anything by Yrsa Sigurdardottir? Another Icelandic crime author you might wish to try! I also much prefer to read crime series rather than standalone novels. It's funny, because in any other genre I very rarely read series. But it's really nice to get involved with an investigator character that you can follow over the course of several books.

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    1. Marie, I have not read Sigurdardottir. But she is on my radar and I am sure I will try one eventually. Iceland is very interesting.

      Maybe I don't like short stories for the same reason I do like mystery series ... I want the story to continue.

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  7. Interesting! I've read this author's first book which I enjoyed and I hope to read this one soon. He has a slightly strange style of writing which takes a while to get into but it's nice to read something different.

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    1. Sarah, his style is different but he kept me interested. I will be catching up on his other books as I run into them.

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  8. I'd never heard of this author, but I enjoyed the review. If only I didn't have so many other books on the TBR pile....

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    1. Moira, Me too, too many books already purchased and unread. I have to take a break from buying before the big book sale in September.

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