The Draining Lake

Publisher: 
Place: 
London
Year: 
2007

The novel Kleifarvatn, translated to English by Bernard Scudder.

Also published by Vintage in London 2008, Thomas Dunne Books in New York 2008, Picador in New York 2009 and Vintage in London 2010.

About the book:

Following an earthquake,   the water level of an Icelandic lake suddenly falls, revealing a skeleton that is weighed down by a heavy radio device bearing inscriptions in Russian. Inspectors Erlendur, Elinborg, and Sigurdur Oli’s investigation takes them back to the Cold War era, when bright, left-wing students in Iceland were sent to study in the “heavenly state” of Communist East Germany.

But one of the students went missing, and her friends suspected that her “heavenly state” was all too real. Erlendur follows a long cold trail that leads back to Iceland, international espionage, and murder.

From Draining Lake:

One day a message appeared on Sigurdur Óli’s desk from the US embassy in Reykjavík stating that it had information that might prove to be useful to the police in their investigation regarding the skeleton from Kleifarvatn. The message was delivered by the gloved hand of an embassy chauffeur who said he was supposed to wait for a reply. With the help of Ómar, the ex-director general of the foreign ministry, Sigurdur Óli had made contact with Robert Christie in Washington, who had promised to assist them after hearing what the request involved. According to Ómar, Robert – or Bob, as he called him – had been interested in the case and the embassy would soon be in touch.

Sigurdur Óli looked at the chauffeur and his black leather gloves. He was wearing a black suit and wore a peaked cap with gold braid; he looked a complete fool in such a get-up. After reading the message, Sigurdur Óli nodded. He told the chauffeur that he would be at the embassy at two o’clock the same day and would bring with him a detective called Elínborg. The chauffeur smiled. Sigurdur Óli expected him to salute on departing, but he did not.

Elínborg almost bumped into the chauffeurs at the door to Sigurdur Óli’s office. He apologized and she watched him walk off down the corridor.

‘What on earth was that?” she said.

‘The US embassy,’ Sigurdur Óli said.

They arrived at the embassy on the stroke of two. Two Icelandic security guards stood outside the building and eyed them suspiciously as the approached. They stated their business, the door was opened and they were allowed inside. Two more security guards, this time American, received them. Elínborg was braced for a weapons check when a man appeared in the lobby and welcomed them with a handshake. He said his name was Christopher Melville and asked them to follow him. He praised them for being ‘right on time’. They spoke in English.

Sigurdur Óli and Elínborg followed Melville up to the next floor, along the corridor and to a door which he opened. A sign on the door said: Director of Security. A man around sixty was waiting for them inside, his head crewcut although he was wearing civilian clothes, and he introduced himself as the said director, Patrick Quinn. Melville left and they sat down with Quinn on a small sofa in his spacious office. He said he had spoken so the Defence Department at Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that the Americans would gladly help the Icelandic police if they could. They exchanged a few words about the weather and agreed it was a good summer by Reykjavík standards.

Quinn said he had been with the embassy ever since Richard Nixon visited Iceland in 1973 for his summit meeting with French President Georges Pompidou, which was held at Kjarvalsstadir Art Museum. He said he like Iceland very much in spite of the cold, dark winters. At that time of year he tried to make it to Florida for a vacation. He smiles. ‘Actually I’m from North Dakota, so I’m used to this kind of winter. But I miss the warmer summers.’

Sigurdur Óli smiled back. He thought they had made enough idle chat, much as he would have liked to tell Quinn that he had studied criminology for three years in the states and loved America and all things American.

‘You studied in the UD, didn’t you?’ Quinn said. ‘Criminology. Three years, wasn’t it?’

The smile froze on Sigurdur Óli’s face.

‘I understand you like the country,’ Quinn added. ‘It’s good for us to have friends in these difficult times.’

‘Do you…do you have a file on me here?’ Sigurdur Óli asked, dumfounded.

‘A file?’ Quinn laughed. ‘I just phoned Bára from the Fulbright Foundation.’

‘Bára, yes, I see,’ Sigurdur Óli said. He knew the foundation’s director well.

‘You were on a scholarship, right?’

‘That’s right,’ Sigurdur Óli said awkwardly. ‘I thought for a moment that…’ He shook his head at his own folly.

‘No, but I’ve got the CIA file on you here,’ Quinn said, reaching over for a folder from the desk.

The smile froze on Sigurdur Óli’s face again. Quinn waved an empty folder at him and started laughing.

‘Boy, is he uptight,’ he said to Elínborg.