Fresh Meat: Outrage by Arnaldur Indriðason

Outrage by Arnaldur Indriðason
Outrage by Arnaldur Indriðason
Outrage by Arnaldur Indriðason is the latest of the Reykjavík-based Inspector Erlendur thrillers to be released in the United States (available September 18, 2012).

A woman is raped. A man, most likely her rapist, is found murdered with a fistful of Rohypnol (the date-rape drug) shoved down his throat. And Inspector Erlendur is unreachable someplace in the East Fjords of Iceland. Stepping into the breach is Elínborg, an indispensable member of Erlendur’s team particularly where rape is concerned. She’s a woman and, after all, rape is most often a woman’s concern.

That, essentially, is the “outrage” of the book’s title. Outrage over the way the victims of rape—and, indeed, the crime of rape—are treated by society and by the police. Outrage over the crime itself.

Rape is a difficult crime to prove and to prosecute. If the victims have been drugged, as is the case here, their recollections are unreliable. Even if they recall the incident, they’re reluctant to talk about it. “And it can’t help that the justice system treats these victims with such contempt,” Elínborg tells a counselor at the rape-trauma center. “Eighteen months on average for a rape conviction? It’s a disgrace.”

Then there’s the issue of investigating a murder in which the deceased, a man named Runólfur, probably was a rapist who could well have been killed by a woman he raped. How does a police investigator maintain objectivity in such circumstances? It’s one thing if you’re determined to solve a case that will right a wrong; it’s quite another when almost all the evidence indicates the murder victim probably deserved retribution for his actions.

That little word “probably” places a demand on a professional to set aside his or her personal feelings and to do the job that needs to be done. And this case is full of probablies and maybes. Grounded, methodical Elínborg understands this even if her hotshot colleague Sigurdur Óli can’t take it in.

 “Maybe the pills Runólfur used were Edvard’s. He could be an accessory. Maybe he attacked Runólfur.”

“That wimp?”

“There you go again. Can’t you treat people with a bit of respect?”

“He wouldn’t have needed any help from me to make up a story like that. I bet he came up with it ages ago—that is, if he is lying to us.”

“Why won’t you ever admit you’ve made a mistake?” asked Elínborg. “You screwed up. Royally.”

“Hey, steady on.”

“He picked up on what you said. I think everything he said after that was a lie.” Elínborg sighed heavily. “I’ve never had a case like this before . . . Every single person I speak to seems to be a viable suspect.”

Fittingly for a former journalist, Arnaldur Indriðason’s style is observant and direct. It suits the police procedural form well and the investigation here proceeds at a steady pace with enough wrong turns and blind alleys along the way to keep things surprising.

Using Elínborg as the main character lets Indriðason change perspective from the troubled, middle-aged male Inspector Erlendur to the slightly less troubled, younger female officer. Of course, no one on the force escapes family strife completely, and Elínborg has her share, including a foster son who’s gone AWOL; a teenage son showing the potential to do the same; and two other kids, a husband, and parents who still can’t quite appreciate the pressures of her work. (Her mother continues to hope that Elínborg will give up all this police nonsense and pursue a more sensible profession, and there are days when Elínborg thinks her mom might be right.)

The body was almost completely drained of blood, much of which had pooled and dried on the floor of the flat. That meant that the man’s heart had continued to beat for a little while after the attack.

After seeing all that gore Elínborg simply could not have cooked a bloody steak, however much her elder son moaned about the dinner menu.

Fans of Inspector Erlendur have expressed some dissatisfaction with Outrage since Erlendur is nowhere to be found in it. It’s not even clear where he’s gone until chapter 8, and I confess I spent a good deal of the book waiting for him to return to Reykjavík and set everyone straight. (Spoiler: That doesn’t happen.)

I also wondered (and apparently I’m not alone in this) how the book would have been different if Erlendur had been heading the investigation. Then I realized that Indriðason wanted to hammer home the point that the only person who could professionally and properly solve this case involving rape had to be a female character—and that’s part of the outrage too.

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Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.

Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.

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