The Draining Lake
Arnaldur Indridason
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Buy *The Draining Lake: A Reykjavik Thriller* by Arnaldur Indridason online

The Draining Lake: A Reykjavik Thriller
Arnaldur Indridason
336 pages
September 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A dark and foreboding tale of Cold War intrigue, this ambitious thriller begins in present-day Reykjavik where Detective Inspector Erlendur and his colleagues Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg follow the discovery of a skeleton after the waters of Lake Kleifarvatin suddenly evaporate. As the skeleton is carefully unearthed by the forensics team, Erlendur and Elinborg see that not even a single piece of flesh or scrap of clothing is left on it.

Only a bulky black metal box remains next to the bones, tied by a rope; what seem to be broken instruments with black dials and black buttons are visible. According to forensics, the box appears to be an old Soviet transmitter. The case requires Erlendur’s immediate attention and jumpstarts an investigation harkening back to the early 1960s, revealing subversive Icelandic ties to the bourgeoning East German Socialist movement.

The Inspector must fight his own demons, snapping abruptly into flashbacks and his past as a young investigator and the time he worked with is his old colleague Marion Briem, who is now near death and forced to inhale oxygen after a lifetime of chain-smoking. Only Marion can help Erlendur and his colleagues piece together the long-forgotten case of a missing person and the story of a young woman standing outside a dairy shop, waiting for her fiancé who vanished unexpectedly.

In Iceland selling East German farm machinery and diggers, the man owned a black Ford falcon and was last seen at a farm owned by a man called Haraldur. The most likely explanation is that for some reason he killed himself. As the case gets more and more complicated, the investigation clouded by the passing years and the lack of witnesses, Erlendur must deal with his wayward and uncommunicative son, his junkie daughter, and the memories of his dead brother, lost on a wintry expedition in the wilds of Iceland.

While Indridason’s prose is often quite leaden, perhaps deliberately as cold and hard as the landscapes of Iceland, the strength of this novel is its stark and frightening account of life during the height of the Eastern Soviet regime when a young, naïve Icelandic socialist by the name of Tomas travels to Leipzig.  There he is for the first time confronted by the realities of the secret police and this new world of “interactive surveillance.”

When Tomas falls in love with young Ilona, she tries to show him the dangers of adopting the Soviet socialist attitudes. When they find themselves drawn into the evil tentacles of the Stasi, Ilona refuses to put a lid on her outspoken views. Tomas must weigh his innate political beliefs with the real-life horrors steadily building in his lover’s wake.

The dark shadows of revenge play out against the bleak landscapes of Iceland and East Germany as Indridason’s tale skips back and forth from the fascinating details of student life in east Germany to the after-effects of the Cold War, and onto the fluctuating, furtive accounts of the Western spy networks in Iceland. Soon enough the narrative threads merge in a shocking climax as this mix of emotionally wretched characters reflect on their past loves and a young man sits alone, remembering his past and remaining inconsolable as he remembers his lost sweetheart: “her soft kiss on his lips, grieving, deep in his dark valley.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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