Friday, August 16, 2013

Discomfort Food

More late night iPhone research while reading, this time enjoying (if that's the word) "Available Dark," Elizabeth Hand's second crime novel about middle-aged ex-punk photographer Cass Neary. This one takes place largely in Iceland. It's as if the coastal Maine of the first book just wasn't cold and dark enough, so Hand decided to up the ante. Some would argue she goes a few steps too far. Topics here include Norwegian black metal music, human sacrifice and "transgressive" posed-corpse photography a la Joel Peter Witkin.

The key supporting role played by Allen's Coffee Brandy in the first Neary book, "Generation Loss," is occupied here, roughly, by Brennivin, a caroway-flavored liqueur affectionally known as "the black death." Fittingly, I guess, as Neary spends more time in an altered state than any fictional sleuth this side of Nick Charles, although her buzz is as likely to derive from crystal meth as Jack Daniel's.

Not as much information as I would have liked in the book about Icelandic food, though the local smoked lamb gets high marks. Sadly, the US is one of several countries to which Icelandic vendors are not allowed to ship food items. Can't imagine why, as according to this "The product carries a veterinary health certificate."

I'm afraid my sense of Icelandic cuisine has been shaped irrevocably by the excellent Reykjavik crime novels of Arnaldur Indridason. I was especially struck by a scene in the early installment "Jar City" in which Detective Erlunder selects as comfort food from the local super market a product called Svið, which turned out to be a shrink-wrapped singed and boiled sheep's head -- a treat that tops an authoritative online list of the five worst Icelandic foods. (The scene makes an even stronger impression in Baltasar Kormakur's film version.)

If there's a list being drawn up somewhere of "transgressive foods," Svið will certainly be on it.