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A Book a Week: Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indriason

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Arnaldur Indriason's Icelandic mysteries continue to be my favorites. As usual, Indridason delivers a simple mystery with a straightforward solution, but it's the accompanying journey through Iceland's modern social issues that makes his books so interesting. And of course, Iceland's issues are Europe's issues; in this case the impact of immigration on a formerly homogeneous culture.

Elias, a boy with an Icelandic father and a Thai mother, is murdered on his way home from school. Was his murder racially motivated? Was it just a consequence of living in an impoverished neighborhood in Reykjavik?

Suspects abound: local drug dealers and pedophiles, professed racists, schoolyard bullies. Detectives Erlendur, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg must contend with all this and more, including Elias' mother, Sunee, who speaks only Thai; her estranged husband, who has engaged in a series of "marriages" to Asian women whom he brings to Iceland, then abandons; and Elias' older half-brother, who is fully Thai and whose adjustment to Icelandic society has been marred by depression and violence.

This is a bleak story set in a rapidly changing society. Why do I read these kinds of things? I think I love them because they help me see that every society struggles with similar issues and that human traits are universal.

The racist Icelandic teacher who rails against the Asian immigrants could be someone from the U.S. talking about Mexicans; the single mother trying to hold her family together despite her lack of money and her long working hours could be from anywhere. Trouble is everywhere, and we just have to sort it out as best we can, clue by clue, as Erlendur does.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week

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