The plot in Voices bears certain similarities to the plot in Gaston Leroux’s 1908 mystery, The Mystery Of The Yellow Room, and to some other classical mysteries as well. However, Voices is much more psychologically penetrating in its approach than any of these. Yet another deeply satisfying tale of the odd Reykjavik inspector Erlendur Sveinson!
In Voices, Santa, an employee named Gudlaugur, is found murdered in the basement of a stylish hotel in Reykjavik a few days before Christmas, and in a sexually compromising position: with his pants on his knees and a condom on his penis. The manager, understandably, is desperate to keep any whiff of scandal away from guests arriving to spend a cheery holiday amid reindeer and Icelandic hot springs.
Inspector Erlendur, who became known to crime readers when Indridason won the Gold Dagger for crime fiction with Silence of the Grave, is on another complicated case. Erlendur and his team investigate the death of this long-term employee, whom his colleagues neither noticed nor liked, against the disapproval and even hostility of the hotel staff. Erlendur, following some strange impulse, rather than return to his empty flat at the end of the first day of the investigation, takes a room at the hotel – perhaps more to spite the manager than anything else. It isn’t a nice room and the heating doesn’t work, but it forms the nucleus for the story over the few days that follow, as Erlendur quietly observes and absorbs the “voices” and rhythms of the hotel, and increasingly has to try to explain to various colleagues and his daughter why he isn’t home for Christmas.
Erlendur, using the hotel room as his base, talks to and becomes acquainted with the staff of the hotel. He talks to the chambermaid who found the body, to a seedy British guest, to the manager, and the others. Along with a picture of the dead man emerges a picture of a hotel with layers and layers of secrets. So does the dead Gudlaugur.
Meanwhile, Elinborg, Erlendur’s female assistant, works with a case where a small boy has repeatedly arrived in hospital with minor injuries, which give rise to suspicions of parental cruelty. This story is seamlessly intertwined with the main story, and creates a whole in Voices where the two cases reinforce one another into a study of childhood and consequences of childhood experiences and abuses. As well, Erlendur himself has lost a brother at an early age, and somehow we see how this has affected to relationship to his own drug-addict daughter.
Voices is another outstanding novel by Arnaldur Indridason. The story has well-developed characters that as a reader you are either drawn to and empathize with or feel appalled by. The text is spare and direct. The plot is well developed, complex and well paced. Indridason knows how to make you turn the pages. Reading Voices is very worthwhile.