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Tainted Blood: A Reykjavik Murder Mystery    by Arnaldur Indridason order for
Tainted Blood
by Arnaldur Indrišason
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2006 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This first in an excellent series of police procedurals set in Iceland was originally published in the UK with the title Jar City. Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder, it stars the highly intuitive, middle-aged Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson, whose very impressive job skills are balanced by an equally dark personal life.

Divorced since his children were small, Erlendur lives on his own, in a one-bedroom apartment full of books, and some battered furniture. His social life is absent, his only visits are from his addict daughter, Eva Lind, who has searched him out but shows up - and acts out family dramas - when she needs his money or his help. Erlendur 'cursed Eva Lind's fate and blamed his own neglect for the way she had turned out.' His son Sindri Snaer receives only a mention - that he's completing his third period in rehab - in this first book.

The story begins with the discovery of the body of a seventy-something man in a basement flat, head bashed in with a blunt instrument, and a note left on the corpse - 'I am him'. In the victim's desk, Erlendur finds a photograph, 'showing a grave in a cemetery in wintertime.' It turns out to be that of a four-year old girl, Audur, who died from a malignant brain tumor, after which her mother committed suicide. Though his colleagues assume the murder was related to a simple robbery, Erlendur discovers that Audur's mother was a victim of rape, that the rapist was a repeat offender, and that one of his close friends (a photographer) had disappeared.

In addition to this official investigation - on which he has help from his (retired) legendary mentor Marion Briem - Erlendur takes on another search. Eva Lind - who also asks for money and lets her father know she's pregnant - passes on a request from his ex-wife to track down the daughter of friends who 'did a runner' from her own wedding. The bride left a card on the wedding's message tree, saying, 'He's a monster what have I done?'

As Erlendur works his way towards solving both sordid cases, the reader learns along with him about the theft of Einstein's brain by Thomas Harvey; about a room called Jar City, where preserved innards were kept - often without permission - for teaching purposes; about the Genetic Research Center's work in Iceland; and about a rare genetic disease. And he makes rare contact with Eva Lind when he opens up to her about his job, telling her that 'The repulsion haunts you like an evil spirit that burrows into your mind and doesn't leave you in peace until you believe that the filth is life itself because you've forgotten how ordinary people live.'

In Tainted Blood, Arnaldur Indrišason shows us the vile consequences that ripple forward from an impulsive act of violence - but don't jump to conclusions when reading this author's work; the solution is neither simple, nor black and white. Don't miss this one!

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth:

Knowing I like mysteries, an Icelander friend of mine loaned me this one. I found - as I have always known - that people the world over are much the same. Speak a different language, eat different foods, have different goals maybe, but underneath we could place ourselves almost anywhere in the civilized world and co-exist.

As Jar City proves, though I'm sure that was not the author's main intent. The tale could have taken place in any city in the good old USA. Or possibly Paris, or London. Erlendur, a policeman in Reykjavik, is called to an apparent murder scene. An old man living alone had been attacked and hit on the head with a heavy glass ashtray. The ensuing investigation leads the policeman down a path he could never have imagined. His personal life weaves its way around the murder investigation, as his daughter fights both him and life in general.

The story moves at a good clip as various clues turn up other ones and more and more people become involved. Arnaldur Indrišason has written a tightly woven plot with very real characters who have the flaws you and I and most everyone else has - as well as very good traits that stand out.

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