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The Missing People Theme in The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Idridason

Updated on May 10, 2013
Arnaldur Idridason
Arnaldur Idridason | Source

The Draining Lake by Arthur Indridason has a theme of missing people. There are several characters in the book that are missing, some of whom are never found. When the book starts out, it talks about Inspector Erlendur’s brother who went missing in the mountains when they were kids. Erlendur looked for him, but was never able to find him. Every year, he returns to the mountain to look for his brother’s remains with no success. His missing brother is what fueled Erlendur to become an expert at finding missing people. I believe that since he can’t find his brother, he tries to “make up” for it by finding other missing people.

It seems that Erlendur is haunted by his missing brother, which causes a chain reaction in his life to make other people go missing from him. Several people leave in and out of Erlendur's life, including his two adult children, as he was in and out of their lives when they were children. His son, Sindri Snaer, and his daughter, Eva Lind are also missing, though not as permanently as other characters in the novel. Erlendur often does not know of his children’s whereabouts. He doesn’t have a good relationship with them, although it seems at one point he was developing a relationship with his daughter until her drug habit got in the way. The reason that he has a strained relationship with his children is that he was basically missing from their lives as they were growing up.

There is also a sense of “missing person” with the woman that Erlendur is dating. Valgerdur is married, so he doesn’t see her very often. There is a point in the novel where she finally leaves her husband, but she tells Erlendur that she needs time alone before she can see him again. She goes away, and although she tells Erlendur that she will be staying with her sister, in a sense, she is missing from Erlendur’s life for a while. She eventually shows back up when she is ready and Erlendur accepts her with open arms. He seems to have gotten used to people in his life going missing as if people checking out on others is normal.

When the book goes back in time to talk about Tomas and his friends, two characters go missing during this time period. The first character to go missing is Hannes. Tomas unknowingly reveals Hanne’s secret to the wrong people, which caused Hannes to suddenly get deported back to Iceland. Hannes is never heard from again until the end of the book. Then Ilona, Tomas’s fiancé, is discovered to be secretly working against socialism. Tomas discovers that she was working with Hannes, and tries to warn her of danger, but she didn’t listen. Ilona was taken by authorities and no one ever saw her again. She was pregnant with Tomas’s baby, so essentially, his child was also missing. Tomas was frantic with trying to find her, withdrawing from socialist activities and eventually was deported back to Iceland.

The case that Erlendur was working on lead him to investigate numerous missing person cases during the particular time frame given. The most important one was that of the woman whose husband, Leopold disappeared one day in his new Ford Falcon. It’s as if her she’s still standing in front of the shop thirty years later waiting on him to pick her up. Ironically, it turns out that Leopold was actually living a double life. He is actually Emil, one of the spies that was at the university with Tomas. Tomas killed Emil, whose body was found in the lake.

The theme of missing people gives the book a sense of mystery and gloom. It helps to establish a pattern with Erlendur, as well as establish his personality. Erlender is fueled by his missing brother, which gives him the power to become a great detective. Without the missing persons theme, the book would be flat, one-dimensional. It would be more like a hard-boiled story because one of the main parts of police procedurals is presenting the life of the detective to the reader.


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