Monday, March 3, 2014

House of EvidenceHouse of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Victor Arnar Ingolfsson's "House of Evidence" is a very European book; it is about not being able to realize one's lifelong dream. Had someone told me a few days ago that I would be engrossed in a book where one of the main plot threads is a story about attempts to build a railroad line in Iceland, a book where an engineer's diaries from the early 1900s account for almost a third of its volume, I would not have believed. Yet I found the novel very interesting, and I had a lot of fun reading it - mainly, I think, because of good writing and apparently flawless translation.

It is 1973. Jacob Kieler, the middle-aged son of a prominent Icelandic engineer, is murdered in his family house, full of museum-quality items dating back to the beginnings of the 20th century. The main thread of the plot follows the Reykjavik police's investigation of the murder. The investigation thread is interwoven with the diaries of the victim's father. The diaries cover the years 1910-1945 and follow the elder Jacob during 10 years of his studies and engineering jobs in various countries of Europe and the United States. Of course, the investigation soon connects to the past.

The investigation thread of the plot is well constructed and skillful characterizations of several police officers make them believable. I like detective Hrefna's lack of pretense and her quiet wisdom. The diaries part of the plot is also quite interesting. In fact, I even learned a little about European politics in the 1930s, even though I grew up and spent most of my young adulthood in Europe. The ending is quite a bit too dramatic for my taste, but readers who like surprises in mystery novels may enjoy several big ones here. There even is a sweet happy ending amidst a very sad and bitter ending. Great title and a neat last sentence. Read the book to understand my cryptic remarks.

Three and a half stars.

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