Cela shares her comments about Jar City, a mystery from Iceland:
Jar City is a complex mix of mystery, dysfunctional family interactions, and travelogue. Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is introduced in the first chapter investigating the scene of a murder. As he surveys the crime scene, he finds a cryptic note with the message, “I am Him” written on it. Based on this message, and the condition of the crime scene (no forced entry, no obvious property damage, etc.), the police determine that the crime is not random, but in fact, a planned murder.
Erlendur and his crew learn many intriguing facts as they follow one lead after another. They discover several old crimes that may have been committed by the murder victim, the puzzling death of a child with a rare genetic disease, and the existence of rooms in hospitals, and possibly in private “collections,” housing thousands of jars containing various organs removed from bodies without permission in the name of science and research.
Although the mystery is interesting enough, with many twists and turns, the real center of the story is the combination of the city of Reykjavik, Icelandic weather, and Erlendur. The city is present in almost every chapter, either indirectly, as a background providing character development, or directly, providing a historical and ecological puzzle that must be solved to learn more about the victim. As Erlendur trudges through the constant rain from one lead to another, he is haunted by his personal failures, especially his relationship with his daughter Eva Lind, an addict who drifts in and out of his life when her need for shelter and/or money overwhelms her. The almost uniformly gloomy weather is the background for his equally gloomy life.
Foreign writers often must rely on the skills of their translators to make their books appealing to other readers. In this case, Bernard Scudder does an outstanding job of translating the material to American tastes. As I learned more about Erlendur, through his musings about his personal and professional life, as well as the thoughts and conversations of those around him, I started to appreciate his amazing resilience and his essential humanity. An intriguing regular cast of characters, an interesting premise, and spare, lyrical writing made me want to read the next book in the series, Silence of the Grave.