Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder
Ms. Hen went on a streak of reading Icelandic novels before she went to Iceland, but she wanted to save one for when she was actually in Iceland, and she decided it would be JAR CITY. She thinks this is the perfect novel to read while sitting in her Airbnb in Reykjavik, or a coffee shop, or a restaurant.
In this novel, it is autumn, and the rain is incessant. Ms. Hen liked this because it rained practically every day she was in Iceland, so she felt like it was happening. She felt as if she were in the novel with the character trying to solve a murder.
This novel is a mystery, which Ms. Hen usually does not read, because they are for the most part written badly. But this book is not; it is complicated, and has a lot of twists and turns and many colorful characters.
A man is murdered is a basement apartment, and a note is left behind which says, “I am him.” The man was smashed on the head with an ashtray. The detective Erlender searches for who murdered him and why. The victim’s past comes hurtling through: he was an accused rapist, and may have fathered children in that way. He was the carrier of a brain disease than mainly killed women.
This quest leads Erlender to a jar city, an organ collection in jars. (This reminded Ms. Hen of the penis museum she visited in Reykjavik.) Erlender is determined to find the murderer, but there are obstacles in his way. This is different from other mysteries Ms. Hen has read, because she was actually interested in what was going to happen, and there was not a formula for the novel, new fascinating characters kept being introduced.
One interesting thing to Ms. Hen was that the murder victim lived in a basement apartment in an area called Nordurmyri. She is staying in a basement apartment near this area, which Google maps tells her, but she thinks she might be staying in the area. The book says that these apartments were the former maids’ quarters when the houses were owned by wealthy people. The fact that the character lives in this area is important because it is a former marsh area, and a body could be hidden in the ground under the house.
There was one mention of a chicken in this novel, Erlendur, “called in at a takeaway and picked up a bag of fried chicken for dinner.” There are lots of Kentucky Fried Chickens in Iceland, but Ms. Hen refused to eat at them. She will only eat a decent restaurant, or not an American one. But the character does not take care of himself. He is stressed from his job and his life and eats badly and does not exercise.
Ms. Hen loved JAR CITY. She understands there is a sequel, but she does not usually read those. She enjoyed reading this novel while in Iceland because it gave her more of an understanding of the Icelandic nature, which is quiet, determined, and has a sense of humor.