Good morning, Reykjavik

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January 16, 2013 by Doug Coutts

From Reykjavik, Iceland

As I’ve mentioned before, the WordPress stats function is very handy.  Not only does it tell me how many views I’m getting – and yesterday was a record, almost as many people viewed my blog as I’ve shaken a stick at in the last twelve months – but it also tells me whence they came.  And yesterday there was a little dot on the map way up in the north.  Hello, Iceland.

I’ve been intrigued by Iceland for some time now.  For a start, it stays true to its name – there’s lots of ice.  Not like Greenland, which doesn’t seem very green, not on Google streetview at least.  Or Argentina, where the streets are paved with dead dogs, useless paper money and rabid Malvinistas but definitely not silver.

In Iceland everyone is on first name terms.  This is a practice that goes back hundreds if not thousands of years, presumably to a time when there were only ten people on the whole island and you weren’t likely to get confused.  These days there are a few more citizens about, and it’s not made any easier by the fact that the Government restricts what names are used. While this rules out the stupidity of Chalaray-Sunbeam and J’Mayce it must get difficult if there are 17 Jons in the room (although they do have a way around that).

So it’s a friendly place.  Except there are a lot of murders – fortunately mainly in books.  I went through a spell of reading Scandinavian crime fiction, starting out with Iceland’s own Arnaldur Indridason (Arnaldur to his friends and everyone else), then moving across the North Sea  for Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell and Asa Larsson and ending up with Stieg Larsson after all the fuss had died down.

The thing about Scandinavian crime fiction is that the region is such a perfect place for dastardly deeds.  It’s totally dark for most of the year so you have inbuilt gloom, the people are all descended from Vikings and Berserkers which means they‘re innately homicidal and there’s plenty of forested areas to hide in.  Close your eyes and you’d swear you were in Featherston.

After a while, though, the incessant snow, rain and candles that blow out just at the wrong (or right) moment, starts to get to you.  The perfect antidote is the work of Donna Leon, a crime writer whose hero, Commissario Guido Brunetti, works in Venice.  There it’s sunny all year round, Guido is happily married, goes home for lunch each day and makes dinner while discussing his workload with the wife and kids.  And everyone dresses so well.

They probably dress well in Scandinavia too – it’s just you can’t tell what’s under all those anoraks.

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