Monday, 15 August 2011

Welcome to Iceland

I've got a piece in Voyager this month on Scandinavian crime novelists, written with the magazine's splendid editor, Andrew. Due to the focus on Denmark, Norway and Sweden, there was no space for Iceland, home of one of the best Nordic crime writers of the last decade, Arnaldur Indridason. (I haven't tried his compatriot Yrsa Sigurdardottir, any good?)

Indridason emerged in the UK in 2004 with Jar City, a terrific exploration of this remote country's landscape and heritage in the form of a murder-mystery. (The book was reissued with the unbelievably dull title Tainted Blood but seems to have reverted to form, thank goodness.) There are now seven Inspector Erlendur investigations - branded Reykjavík Murder Mysteries by the publishers - as well as a historical thriller (Operation Napoleon), though the work has slightly flagged for me since 2006's Voices. (All dates are for UK translations.)

In 2008, a film version of Jar City hit our screens and I interviewed director Baltasar Kormákur (101 Reykjavík, 2000) about the difficulty of casting the much-loved lead role (the part went to Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson, pictured). I was especially taken with Kormákur's views on his country and what drew him to the book initially - 'We never believed we could make thrillers due to the lack of crimes,' the director noted of his first encounter with Indridason's work.

For Kormákur, detective Erlendur is a 'true Icelandic character, the type of man who has moved from the countryside and never really found ground in the city. That's why I emphasised the mountains: when he's out smoking, I pulled the mountains in. This man took the mountains with him to the city. There's a lot of those people, they bring horses to the city and they have a country life in the city but it doesn't fit. I liked that part of having him drive through the lava field and being alone in this humungous country - it's very big with very few people - and also emphasising not the beauty spots but the spots that are more real to me.'

Since then Kormákur has worked largely in the US - including on a thriller scripted by Indridason called Contraband, which stars Mark Wahlberg and is due out in Britain next March - although you can't blame him returning home to what sounds like an idyllic life. 'My ground is in Iceland but it's hard with an audience of 300,000 people, I've been lucky to get some experience abroad. If I haven't totally fucked it up I'll do some more movies but I'll always come back to Iceland, I'll never leave the country. I have five children, I live on a farm breeding horses - I just think life won't get much better than that.'

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