“The stone of remorse”, “Lëd” and “Indian justice”: figures of the night

Everyone lives their retirement as they want – or rather, as they can -, but Konrad, him, cannot help being what he always was: a meticulous policeman. So here he is launched in a third investigation (the 22e Indridason’s book translated into French!) since he officially left the Reykjavik Police Department’s Major Crime Squad.

The stone of remorse is a sad story that unfolds slowly, as often with Indridason. It is that of Valborg, a brutally raped woman who finds herself pregnant and refuses to keep her child so as not to have to live every day with the incarnation of this memory. Towards the end of her life, 50 years after the fact, and in awe of Konrad’s previous investigation – see The ghosts of Reykjavik (2020) -, she asks him to find the child: he refuses. A few weeks later, we find her murdered in her modest apartment.

It is therefore full of remorse that the investigator will slowly go up the trail. At the start, nothing was known: not even the sex or, of course, the name of the baby, “placed” in the past by a midwife campaigning against abortion. But Iceland is a small, sparsely populated country and Konrad is meticulous, methodical, tenacious, as we know; he will therefore be able to identify the midwife and the fundamentalist sect to which she belonged. Even if the investigation progresses slowly – and that led by the police even more – it is finally Konrad who will discover, long before them, the rapist, the abandoned child, and even the murderer of Valborg. All this while, in parallel, the former policeman is still trying to elucidate the murder of his crook father, killed decades earlier. We have already seen calmer retreats.

Indridason’s writing fits perfectly with Konrad’s character and the small world he lives in – flexible, agile, it takes us from one period and one universe to another. Everything is slow here and assumed; the investigation as well as the story, which knows how to be meticulous, patient, stuffed here and there with particularly biting details and portraits of society rendered sumptuously by the translation of Eric Boury. Pure sugar pleasure.

Fortunately for us, the book ends with the scene preceding the assassination of Konrad’s father, then a young teenager …

An icy portrait

In the Western imagination, Siberia brings up images of intense cold, of gulag and of a systematic… and even systemic dehumanization enterprise, to use a word that is in the news. It is precisely these images that are first imposed in Lëd, while Caryl Férey, barely out of the Colombian jungle which served as the backdrop for Paz (2019), we plunge into an icy universe dominated by apocalyptic temperatures oscillating between -40 and -70 ° C.

We are in Norilsk, a town that emerged from the ruins of an ancient gulag where almost all of the inhabitants work at the mine of the Norilsk Nickel consortium. It exploits the largest deposit of this metal on the planet, and the city is the most polluted in the entire northern hemisphere. It is night, and the storm blows with a titanic force which makes fly the roof of a shaking building; in the rubble, we will discover the corpse of a reindeer herder, an old nomad Nénète. Very quickly, Inspector Ivanov of the local police realizes that the man was murdered before being deposited on the roof of the building.

The investigation will be long and difficult; with each new element, Lieutenant Boris Ivanov will have to break down walls of indifference to succeed in understanding what happened. This gives the author all the time in the world to describe this impossible universe based on soulography and despair, as well as on the systematic exploitation of all that can be exploited. The portrait is, it should be said, terribly overwhelming.

A few characters as improbable as they are endearing, however, manage, at the cost of painful efforts, to keep their heads above water in this frozen despair: poets who run on alcohol, a homosexual photographer, Gleb, and Dasha, a seamstress. in love with Gleb since childhood who makes ends meet by doing pole dancing. And everywhere, always, there is this unbearable cold and this closed life revolving around the mine, alcohol and so-called “Russian values”.

Then things are rushing when the policeman Ivanov – transferred to Norilsk because of his too great curiosity – begins to accumulate the clues with the help of Gleb and his forensic. A new corpse emerges, soon accompanied by a suicide; when a bar pillar is then suddenly struck with madness, the investigator discovers the pot aux roses. Unsurprisingly, money and corruption explain the events that shake the small town. But will Boris Ivanov be able to tackle all of this without putting his own life in danger?

The rich and tortuous story that Caryl Férey offers us runs out of steam a few times, but his writing, precise, multifaceted, wins the day. Everywhere, he succeeds first and foremost in making us feel despair, just like the paradoxical energy that inhabits his characters. Pandemic or not, it is arguably the most interesting round trip to Siberia that we can find.

An occupied territory

Even after hundreds of books and films, there is still a lot to be said about the early peoples of the Great Plains of the Americas. Beyond the “heroic” frescoes on the battles of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee, outstanding works – that of Tony Hillerman, among others, and of his daughter Anne who took over – have thus recounted the difficulty for them. Indigenous nations, including the Navajo, to assert their culture. But here is a new voice rising to tell this time the difficult reality facing the Lakota Sicangu Nation in South Dakota: that of David Heska Wanbli Weiden. A member of the Lakota Nation, he is also a lawyer and teaches at Metropolitan State University in Denver.

Indian justice, his first novel, starred Virgil Wounded Horse, a vigilante from the Rosebud reserve. This title of self-proclaimed vigilante is at the heart of the novel since it highlights all the vagueness surrounding the administration of justice and the law in “indigenous territory”. There is indeed an Indian police force on the reserve, but it only has jurisdiction over minor offenses, while the feds only deal with assassinations and drug cases… which leaves offenders a lot of latitude.

The story starts a little slowly, and it will take time to grasp the main character of Virgil. The plot is so complex that it cannot be summed up in a few lines. Let’s say that everything revolves around the control of drug trafficking on the reserve and that many are paying dearly for it. The character of Virgil becomes more and more interesting as the action progresses, as he approaches the ancestral customs of his community and as the author’s writing asserts itself. Sophie Aslanides’ translation – Craig Johnson’s official translator – gives all this smells and colors that you would like to be able to observe yourself. An author to watch.

The stone of remorse | ★★★ ​1/2 | Arnaldur Indridason, translated from Icelandic by Éric Boury, Éditions Métailié, Paris, 2021, 353 pages // Lëd | ★★★ | Caryl Férey, Les Arènes, “EquinoX”, Paris, 2021, 523 pages /// Indian justice | ★★★ | David Heska Wanbli Weiden, translated from English by Sophie Aslanides, Editions Gallmeister, Paris, 2021, 412 pages

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