Icelandic policeman Ari Thór Arason investigates the murder of his superior in Jónasson’s Nightblind (Minotaur, Dec.).
What inspired this series?
Having translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, I tried writing a book of my own, and being a great fan of detective fiction, I think writing crime fiction was the obvious choice. The inspiration was also Siglufjördur, where my grandparents lived and where my father grew up. When I started writing, the setting was such an important part of the process. This is a place I know very well, one of my favorite places, isolated and quiet, and I had the feeling that it would be ideal for a murder mystery.
How did you come to translate Christie?
I started reading Agatha Christie at the age of 11, eventually reading every single book which had been translated into Icelandic. Subsequently, I started reading in English and translated a few short stories for an Icelandic magazine. At the age of 17, I had the rather ambitious idea that I might be able to translate a Christie novel. My mother drove me to Christie’s Icelandic publisher, who very surprisingly agreed to let me try. Christie’s strength was her excellent plotting, with the twist in the end, and her sense of place. I hope I have managed to learn something from her in this regard.
What does making Ari a failed student of theology and philosophy add to his character?
Ari is essentially a lost soul, having been orphaned as a boy, and his failed studies mainly show us that he is still trying to find his place in life. He chose philosophy in an effort to understand the world better, and he chose theology because when he lost his parents he also lost his faith, and throughout the books he struggles with that fact.
Do you believe that American readers are likely to have mistaken stereotypes about your country?
I think that there are some Nordic stereotypes that have been created by Nordic noir, such as the depressed, drinking policeman. I’m sure people from outside of the Nordic countries may also tend to believe that these countries are in reality very peaceful and that crime may not really exist here, except in books. To an extent this is true, with Iceland frequently being ranked as one of the safest places on earth, but there is always crime beneath the surface. But this particular perception of the north, and Iceland, is perhaps also why Nordic noir has become so popular, the sense of contrasts, the first drop of blood on the peaceful layer of snow.