Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

From the PR: “When single mother Maríanna disappears from her home, leaving an apologetic note on the kitchen table, it is assumed that she’s taken her own life – until her body is found on the Grábrók lava fields seven months later, clearly the victim of murder.

Her neglected fifteen-year-old daughter Hekla has been placed in foster care, but is her perfect new life hiding something sinister?

Fifteen years earlier, a desperate new mother lies in a maternity ward, unable to look at her own child, the start of an odd and broken relationship that leads to tragedy.

Police officer Elma and her colleagues take on the case, which becomes increasingly complex, as the list of suspects grows ever longer and new light is shed on Maríanna’s past – and the childhood of a girl who never was like the others…”

Girls Who Lie is the second book in the ‘Forbidden Iceland’ series but having not read the first I can tell you not only that it works brilliantly as a stand alone but that this right here is an ice-cold slab of the good stuff; a brilliant helping of Nordic Noir that hits the spot from the word go!

Eva Björg Ægisdóttir is a seriously talented author to keep an eye on. Her prose is succinct yet evocative, superbly portraying both those glorious Icelandic locations and the subtlety of human emotion in her characters.

Girls Who Lie is fantastically well plotted and is one of those practically delicious mysteries where picking at a thread reveals a massively complex story that spans years and generates plenty of twists and turns that keep you rooted to the spot.

The split narrative serves as a great device for both ratcheting up the tension and painting the story with a much broader stroke. Eva Björg Ægisdóttir creates compelling and genuine characters and has a real skill when it comes to portraying their interactions that’s a real joy to read.

At times dark and harrowing while managing to keep the balance with humour and humanity, Girls Who Lie is a massively rewarding, rich and detailed thriller that I enjoyed every page of.

My thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy Girls Who Lie and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of the blog tour.

Winterkill by Ragnar Jónasson

From the PR:“Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes.

Ari Thór Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air.

Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death…

As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjörður, Ari Thór must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth … one that will leave no one unscathed.

Chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing, Winterkill marks the startling conclusion to the million-copy bestselling Dark Iceland series and cements Ragnar Jónasson as one of the most exciting authors in crime fiction.”

I’m not happy to be writing this review, not happy at all. This cannot be the end of the Dark Iceland series, surely. The compelling journey of Ari Thór, steered by the massively talented hand of Ragnar Jónasson, from rookie newcomer to seasoned Siglufjörður resident and police inspector has been an absolute pleasure to read. This can’t be the end. And yet, here we are.

The plot itself… well, the case looks to be a non-starter at first. Yet as keen as Ari Thór is to park it and focus on spending time with his son and work out his relationship with Kristín (oh how I longed for that to end differently), too many little things begin to pop up and Ari Thór knows something isn’t right. There’s something lurking behind the apparent suicide that he needs to know and, in unravelling that thread he begins to reveal a lot more than expected all the while wrestling with his desire to not be so involved with the case and his intrinsic sense of humanity and drive to discover the truth. It makes for a brilliant read.

One of the key elements in making the Dark Iceland series so addictive is Jónasson’s skill as a writer. He’s brilliantly adept at weaving  a deep and intricately plotted  mystery while simultaneously keeping the reader engrossed in Ari Thór’s own personal pressures in a way that makes Winterkill a gripping book.

Siglufjörður makes for a superb setting for a mystery novel: it’s both chilling and remote and even if it’s no longer as cut-off from the rest of Iceland as it once was you get the feeling that despite an additional tunnel and the ease with which, say, Ari’s old boss Tómas can be reached on the phone, there’s still a sense of isolation in the town that really adds to novel’s atmosphere, especially when the snow storms kick in. As with previous novels in the series, Jónasson populates Winterkill with a brilliantly vivid cast of characters that, were I to find myself in Siglufjörður, I would honestly expect to meet in the street. His portrayal of the grief-stricken mother is really powerful and the degree to which I know it will stay with me for a while is a testament to Ragnar Jónasson’s skill. It’s just so very well written.

What’s made the Dark Iceland series, and Ragnar Jónasson’s writing, standout and prove so enjoyable to read is how subtly your attention can be hooked by little details and how many doors these open for further exploration. Winterkill is no exception – in its gentle pacing, the plot touches on so many intrigues and characters as it builds up a real momentum, Jónasson expertly leading us along until a real ‘what the fu..’ shocker comes barrelling in and, in Winterkill, it’s a real shocker that will stay with you.

So, is this the end of the story for Ari Thór? There’s a little note from the author at the start of Winterkill in which Ragnar Jónasson points out that the story is for those fans that kept asking for one more Ari Thór story. I can’t help but think there’s a lot more to be told about Siglufjörður’s police inspector, what was the secret of his parents hinted at in previous books, for example? What will the growing number of people coming into the town mean for crime in a place where seemingly nothing happens but so much is going on? Who knows, maybe if we ask Ragnar enough…..

My thanks, as always, to Karen  at Orenda Books (a continual source of high-quality fiction) for my copy of Winterkill and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

 

 

Blog Tour: Trap by Lilja Sigurdardottir

From the PR: “Happily settled in Florida, Sonja believes she’s finally escaped the trap set by unscrupulous drug lords. But when her son Tomas is taken, she’s back to square one … and Iceland.

Her lover, Agla, is awaiting sentencing for financial misconduct after the banking crash, and Sonja refuses to see her. And that’s not all … Agla owes money to some extremely powerful men, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it back.

With her former nemesis, customs officer Bragi, on her side, Sonja puts her own plan into motion, to bring down the drug barons and her scheming ex-husband, and get Tomas back safely. But things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and Sonja finds herself caught in the centre of a trap that will put all of their lives at risk…

Set in a Reykjavík still covered in the dust of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, and with a dark, fast-paced and chilling plot and intriguing characters, Trap is an outstandingly original and sexy Nordic crime thriller, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.”

OK: once again I’m at the point of wondering how the hell to review a book without giving away any spoilers. I’ll start at the beginning – the beginning of the trilogy of which Trap is the second part, that is. Last year’s Snare was a thoroughly clever thriller that managed to mix a fiendishly complex web of subplots with a real  emotional punch thanks to a cast of characters that made you question the lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Trap takes everything that was great about Snare – which was plenty – and ratchets it up a level… or five.

While Snare was definitely a compelling read, it was very much a laying of foundations and, as such, reading it is kind of a perquisite for fully understanding Trap as it’s here that everything really kicks off and in the second installment in Lilja Sigurdardottir’s Reykjavik Noir Trilogy it’s on from the word go and doesn’t let up until the last page. Hugely compelling and addictive (I spent many a late night glue to this one), Trap does not pull any punches and blends the tenderness of its characters’ emotional motivations with the brutal reality of the world of drug smuggling to staggering affect. Throw in the white-collar crimes and corruption of the Icelandic financial crash and you’ve got a real page-turner on your hands that delivers on all levels.

Lilja Sigurdardottir has a real talent and manages to weave some fantastically complex plots together without losing any of the momentum and populates them with characters so well written as to generate a genuine emotional investment in them from the reader – especially, of course, when it comes to Sonja and Tomas. Which was an odd one for me as for the vast majority of Snare I found it hard to develop any sympathy for her given her actions. Again I’m really trying not to give anything away but  as the plot of this trilogy deepens and increasing levels of deception and back stabbing are revealed along with the reality of other characters’ actions and just how much of a, pardon the pun, trap Sonja was lead into,  it’s impossible not to get hooked and caught up in the web of lies and emotional manipulation. And as for Bragi and his motivations… well, it’s a need to read.

Trap is a powerful follow-up to Snare and I’m really looking forward to the final chapter of the trilogy.  My thanks as always to Orenda Books for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blogtour.

Blog Tour: Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson

WhiteoutFrom the PR: “Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of the deserted village of Kalfshamarvik. Did she jump, or did something more sinister take place beneath the lighthouse and the abandoned old house on the remote rocky outcrop?

With winter closing in and the snow falling relentlessly, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s mother and young sister also lost their lives in this same spot, twenty-five years earlier. As the dark history and the secrets of the village are unveiled, and the death toll begins to rise, the Siglufjörður detectives must race against the clock to find the killer, before another tragedy takes place.”

With Whiteout, the fifth of his Dark Iceland novels published into English by Orenda Books (though, I think, the fourth chronologically?), Ragnar Jónasson seems to have set himself a challenge – a remote and isolated location, a small (and dwindling) number of witnesses / suspects and a limited time window for the investigation. Throw in the possibility that there was foul play afoot in the deaths of the victims mother and sister years previously in the same location and Mr Jónasson has created a belter of a read.

Taking  characters and events out of Siglufjörður removes both the characters and the reader from the relative comfort zone of the former instalments of the series and adds a real edge to proceedings, heightened further by both the remoteness of Kalfshamavík and the chilling nature of all three deaths under investigation. Setting such a chilling (and, come the reveal, thoroughly disturbing) series of events against the backdrop of the build up to Christmas and its festivities doesn’t hurt either: in place of festive cheer and celebrations there’s deaths and secrets being dragged up.

As this is part of a series – though would certainly work just as brilliantly as a stand alone – I’ll restrain myself from dropping any spoilers.

Having translated some fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic before embarking on his own writing career, Ragnar Jónasson was no stranger to the genre but while I’m sure there will be comparisons drawn (I’ve never read a Christie novel but am familiar enough with the style, certainly thanks to the numerous television adaptations), it’s Jónasson’s skill as a writer that makes the Dark Iceland series so addictive. With Whiteout he expertly weaves a deep and intricatly plotted mystery  that’s genuinely compelling with calm and deliberate pacing that slowly builds to a dramatic reveal. That he does this against the challenges of both the closed setting and ticking clock without making it feel rushed is even more impressive.

One of the other compelling aspects of the Dark Iceland series has been the life and development of Ari Thór. While the pacing and time pressure of the main narrative of Whiteout don’t necessarily allow for too much insight into Ari, what there is still enough to ensure the reader remains plenty interested in this Icelandic copper and most certainly lays the groundwork for some revelations to come.

In a way, the location and focus of Whiteout make it an unusual instalment in the Dark Iceland series though Ragnar Jónasson’s skill as a writer ensures it remains an essential one.

Thanks to  Orenda Books and Anne Cater for my copy and inviting me to take part in this blogtour.

Blog Tour: Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

fullsizerenderThe calm, secluded Icelandic town of Siglufjörður is even more quiet than usual; the sudden illness and death of a visitor means the town is in quarantine.

For Ari Thór this is not necessarily a bad thing – he and Tómas are now the lone members of the police force, splitting shifts between them. But he’s not keeping idle. A local man, Heddin, asks him to look into a decades-old mystery: in 1955 two young couples moved to the isolated and otherwise uninhabited Hedinsfjörður. Their attempts to forge a new life come to disturbing end when one of the women dies after consuming poison, help too far away to reach her in time. The case was never solved and suicide considered the accepted explanation. Heddin, the son of one of the couples and born in Hedinsfjörður himself, has been given an old photograph that may prove something more sinister occurred in that desolate fjord – for, holding the infant Heddin in his arms, an unknown man smiles back at the camera.

Who is the man in the photo? Does he have anything to do with the death of Heddin’s aunt? What really happened out on that bleak fjord? Unable to leave town, Ari is assisted in his investigations by Ísrún, a news reporter (introduced in Black Out) who’s chasing a case of her own.

Isrun’s case is a far more complex and  multi-faceted one that brings together a child abduction, murder and political ambition that is at times genuinely chilling and nerve-wracking. The hurried, freedom of her movement in Reykjavík further emphasising the cooped-up restraint of Siglufjörður as both she and Ari Thór discover just how far the actions of the past can reach into the present.

The splitting of action in Rupture allows Ragnar Jónasson to really flex his skills as a writer; equally strong in both establishing a slow burning mystery in Siglufjörður and a gripping, fast-paced thriller of a story in Reykjavík, each complex and packed with enough intrigue and revelation to ensure the pages of Rupture are turned with speed.

With many a well known series character there’s not much of an unknown quality about them. Their history and character traits are pretty quickly established and it’s seeing how these known elements handle changing situations that make for so many of their books. Everyone knows, for example, how a Jack Reacher type will respond in a given situation or whether a Harry Hole type will pick up a drink or not. What makes the Dark Iceland series so bloody addictive is that this isn’t the case with Ari Thór; glimpses and insights into his past and character are revealed with each book (the violent jealousy in Black Out or the truth of his parents hinted at in Night Blind) but the whole remains hidden so as to make the character of its lead as much a mystery as the crimes themselves and keep the reader coming back to the police station in Siglufjörður.

Rupture is a fantastic book, another brilliant instalment in the Dark Iceland series which is itself a vital addition to both the thriller genre and any discerning bookshelf. I cannot recommend this enough.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy and do check out the previous stops (I seem to have the honour of closing it) on the Rupture blog tour.

rupture-blog-tour

Black Out

Think of Iceland and you’ll no doubt think of geysers, calm, tranquil fjords… perhaps even volcanic eruptions. Crime and murder will probably not be one of those connections that springs to mind. The same is certainly true for Evan Fein, an American tourist, as he searches for Grettir’s Pool, an ancient stone-flagged hot bath, down narrow roads and scanning country lanes and farm gates. What awaits Evan, though, isn’t a relaxing dip in steaming water, it’s a dead body, a man brutally beaten to the point that he is “practically unrecognisable,” “where there had been an eye, there was now an empty socket.”

CnGralHXgAA9a6pThis is the start of Black Out, the latest instalment in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series to be translated into English and published by Orenda Books and it’s bloody good to be back in Siglufjörður once again. Black Out sits second in the Dark Iceland series and picks up after the events of Snow Blind; Ari Thór, while now more at peace in the town, is dealing with the fallout of his confession of infidelity to his girlfriend, Kristín who herself is now living a short distance away in the neighbouring Akureyri. The Inpector, Tómas, is debating his own future in the town after his wife’s move south to Reykjavik and Hlynur is dealing with the chilling consequences of his past.

It’s into this state of distraction that the news of the murder is dropped and Ari Thór and Tómas set about investigating the victim’s connections to the town – the only real starting point is that the victim, Elías, was part of a crew working on the new tunnel. Tómas is far from thrilled at the opening of the tunnel, worrying what it will bring into the town. Strangely enough, the more that Ari Thór digs into the storied past of some of the residents it’s clear that even without infrastructure upgrades, Siglufjörður holds many a disturbing secret. Some people know exactly what Elías was involved in but nobody is talking and so much remains hidden despite the 24-hour light of the Arctic summer that the police are in the dark.

That contrast of tones – darkness in the shadows of an otherwise idyllic scene – is what makes that creeping sense of dread so much more powerful and chilling as, piece-by-piece, the clues come together and the quiet town of Siglufjörður becomes the epicentre of a taught, methodically plotted story involving money laundering, sex-trafficking, child abuse, rape and murder. Be warned – Black Out gets very dark.

This time around it’s not just the Siglufjörður police that are trying to crack the case; Isrun, a news reporter is also chasing down and finding her own leads as she races for an exclusive. The introduction of Isrun means that Jónasson is able to add further elements to the story and take the reader further afield to Reykjavik (shrouded in a volcanic ash cloud) and the politics and rivalries of the newsroom. I’ll avoid going further in terms of Isrun’s involvement in the investigations or her own motivations to avoid spoilers but I will say that it was a genuine surprise and a welcome change up, further evidencing that Ragnar Jónasson’s writing is anything but formulaic. She’s also another thoroughly great and compelling character.

Jónasson has a gift when it comes to crafting memorable characters. Ari Thór, while not always likeable, is given increasing depth and dimension with every instalment and his relationship with Kristín gives greater insight as well as further developing her own character. Somewhat sadly, of all the threads surrounding the main narrative, it’s the sub-plot surrounding Hlynur that is perhaps the most gripping and while having already read Night Blind means I knew where it would lead, was nonetheless genuinely affecting and moving.

Weaving together all the sub-plots of such a multifaceted story could prove challenging yet Ragnar Jónasson makes it seem effortless – while his history of translating Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic means he’s no stranger to mystery writing, it’s his own voice and skill that makes Black Out and the Dark Iceland series one of the most compelling and rewarding additions to the thriller genre. Each instalment delivers more and leaves the reader in eager anticipation for the next. The first snippet of the next instalment (included at the end of Black Out) had me checking the door was properly locked and bolted. Not something I’ve done since I read The Snowman. A series and author well deserving of the highest praise. Very much looking forward to more.

Huge thanks once again to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and I do wholeheartedly recommend Black Out.