This post is a continuation of the last, an exploration of how author Arnaldur Indridason develops the character of Erlendur via his relationship with daughter Eva Lind. Last post I referenced just the first book translated, Jar City (alternate title: Tainted Blood), but this time I’ve added the second in the series, Silence of the Grave.
In Jar City, Erlendur exhibits a mostly embattled relationship with Eva Lind. She’s recently found her way back into his life, but her sporadic visits usually mean she needs money to fuel her drug habit. The day Erlendur begins investigating the main plot murder case, Eva Lind reveals that she is pregnant, they argue, she runs away, he loses sleep worrying about her, then she comes back, announces that she’s going to get clean and asks if she can to move in him.
Though they continue to have confrontations, sometimes Erlendur dares to believe they are becoming like a real family. On one occasion he comes home to find Eva Lind cooking “…a delicious-looking meat stew. A slick of cooking oil was floating above turnips, potatoes, cubes of meat and spices, the whole thing giving off an aroma that filled his flat with the smell of real home cooking.”
“Where did you learn to make meat stew?” Erlendur asked.
“Mum was always making meat stew,” Eva Lind said. “Once when she wasn’t bad-mouthing you she said her meat stew used to be your favourite meal. Then she said you were a bastard.”
“Right on both counts,” Erlendur said. He watched Eva Lind chop up the carrots and add them to the pot with the other vegetables. The thought occurred to him that he was experiencing proper family life and it made him both sad and happy at the same time. He didn’t allow himself the luxury of expecting this joy to last.
As Erlendur investigates a murder and a disappearance, he begins to talk to Eva Lind about both cases, and at one point as he tells her about unearthing the coffin of a four-year-old girl, he grows quiet. Eva Lind breaks the silence:
“Is [she] the girl you told me about when you were shouting at me this morning?” Eva Lind asked.
“She was, I don’t know, maybe some kind of godsend to her mother,” Erlendur said. “She loved the girl beyond death and the grave. Sorry if I’ve been nasty to you. I didn’t intend to, but when I see the way you live, when I see your careless attitude and your lack of self-respect, when I see the destruction, everything you do to yourself and then I watch the little coffin coming up out of the ground, then I can’t understand anything any more. I can’t understand what’s happening and I want to …”
Erlendur fell silent.
“Beat the shit out of me,” Eva Lind finished the sentence for him.
“I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe the best thing is to do nothing. Maybe it’s best to let life run its course. Forget the whole business. … Why should I want to get involved in all this? All this filth. …
… You think it won’t affect you. You reckon you’re strong enough to withstand that sort of thing. You think you can put on armour against it over the years and can watch all the filth from a distance as if it’s none of your business, and try to keep your senses. But there isn’t any distance. And there’s no armour. No-one’s strong enough…”
Erlendur heaved a deep sigh. “It’s all one great big bloody mire.”
Near the end of the first book it seems there’s hope for these two. The primary mystery has finally been solved and Erlendur has a moment to daydream:
“[He] stared into space and thought about Eva Lind. What was she doing now? Was she at his flat? He felt the urge to talk to his daughter. Felt the urge to hug her, snuggle up to her and not let go until he’d told her how much she meant to him.”
Though the first book, Jar City/Tainted Blood ends on a positive note, in the next Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavík Mystery, Silence of the Grave we learn that Eva Lind has been gone from Erlendur’s for two months after another violent argument.
As the main plot begins to develop, Erlendur is on his knees, literally digging for clues at a construction site where some aged skeletal remains have been found. He receives a panicked call for help from his daughter and after a frantic search he finally finds her, but she is in a bad way, and for most of the book Eva Lind remains in a coma.
When doctors encourage Erlendur to talk to her, he is at first uncomfortable with the idea and unsure about to say to her, but as the unearthing of the skeleton and the concurrent investigation progress, Erlendur begins to tell Eva Lind about the discovery of the old skeleton and everything he and his colleagues have found out about the families who lived nearby. He tells her he’s been doing research and discovered that in 1910, when Halley’s Comet passed close to Earth, many many people believed it was on a collision course, its tail an inferno of cyanide that would destroy the world. He uses this to draw an analogy:
“We’re all waiting for the end of the world,” he said. “Whether it’s a comet or something else. We all have our private doomsday. Some bring it upon themselves. Others avoid it. Most of us fear it, show it respect. Not you. You could never show respect for anything. And you don’t fear your own little doomsday.”
Erlendur sat quietly watching his daughter and wondered whether it meant anything, talking to her when she did not seem to hear a word he uttered. He thought back to what the doctor said and even felt a hint of relief, talking to his daughter this way. He had seldom been able to talk to her calmly and at ease. The tension between them had coloured their entire relationship and they had not often had the chance to sit down for a quiet conversation.
But they were hardly talking together. Erlendur smiled wryly. He was talking and she was not listening.
In that respect, nothing had changed between them.
Since she came back into his life, Eva Lind has been asking uncomfortable questions about his relationship with her mother and why he’d left them.
“Eva’s probing into the past always threw him into a quandary. He didn’t know the answers to give about their short-lived marriage, the children they had, why he had walked out. He didn’t have answers to all her questions, and sometimes that enraged her. She had a short fuse as far as her family was concerned.
Eva Lind’s questions opened wounds that she picked at constantly.
“I don’t know,” Erlendur said, keeping her at a distance as he had always done. She felt that… How could she understand when he sometimes did not understand himself?
Now, as Eva Lind lies in intensive care, in a coma, Erlendur is finally able to answer her questions. For him the memories remain harsh; he is still haunted by guilt even though it’s apparent he tried hard to reason with his embittered wife, to fulfill his paternal obligations to his children even though he was leaving them. When she vengefully refused him access to Eva and her brother, Erlendur gave up and ‘disappeared from their lives.’
“I don’t know what became of that man,” Erlendur said in a barely audible voice, looking at his daughter’s face, which was more peaceful than he had ever seen it…”
“He disappeared and I think he’s still lost and has been for a long time, and I’m not certain he’ll ever be found. It’s not your fault. It happened before you came into the world. I think he’s looking for himself, but he doesn’t know why or exactly what he’s searching for, and obviously he’ll never find it… Unless you help him.”
“I know you’re searching for him and I know that if there’s anyone who can find him, it’s you.”
As Erlendur unravels the mystery of the skeleton buried near the ruins of British and American military barracks from the Second World War, author Indridason deftly weaves into the mix a shocking and sorrowful story of ill-fated love and domestic abuse from the same era. Sad events from the past resonate with others closer to home as Erlendur finally reveals to the comatose Eva Lind deeply buried secrets, tragic events from his boyhood that wrenched him his familiar home in the country, events that help to explain his perpetual melancholy.
As Silence of the Grave comes to a close we know much more about Inspector Erlendur and why he is such a moody sleuth.
I’ve barely touched on the skillfully interwoven plotlines that make these two books so compelling and ultimately satisfying to read, having focused primarily on Erlendur and Eva Lind, but I whole-heartedly recommend them both, and any others you can get your hands on. I’ll be taking a break from Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavík Mysteries but will surely find more to comment in a later post.
Next Post 12 March 2013