Blog Tour – Cold As Hell – Lilja Sigurdardóttir

First of all, I must apologise for this blog tour post being late – I was actually in hospital when it was due to be posted but, as it was mostly written, I’ve left the title of it as a blog tour post.

So, two things close to crimeworm’s heart are Orenda Books and Icelandic crime fiction – and as is often the case, this combines both. Here’s the lowdown…

The main premise of this story is the disappearance of a half Icelandic, half English woman called Ísafold. She lives in Reykjavik with her abusive fiancée, Bjorn. The story begins with her younger sister, Áróra, arriving in Iceland from her home in Edinburgh for the umpteenth time at the behest of her mother. Usually it’s because Bjorn’s beaten her sister up, but this time things could be more serious, as Ísafold hasn’t been in touch with their mother, nor has she posted on Facebook – most unlike her. So, yet again, Áróra reluctantly heads to Iceland, sure it’ll be another false alarm, and her sister will, despite any beatings and promises to the contrary, soon be heading back into the arms of the persuasive and repulsive Bjorn.

What about Áróra’s job? As that is woven into the storyline too, isn’t it?

Yes, it is – she tracks down missing money that people might have stolen from banks or the companies they work for, or be hiding from a spouse in a divorce case. She takes a cut of the retrieved assets – and she’s not too long in Iceland when she spots a possible case where her skills could be put to use. However, at this point she’s essentially dating the possible rogue she’ll be fleecing of his ill-gotten gains.

There’s plenty going on to keep Áróra busy in Reykjavik then – and there’s lots of other characters who come into the story, aren’t there?

Yes indeed! One thing I utterly adored about this book was that none of the characters were clichés – they were all slightly quirky, and, bizarrely, the book series this aspect put me most in mind of was the wonderful – and classic – Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City – a series I read more than twenty years ago, but which still gives me a warm feeling every time I think of it. Of course, it’s not crime fiction – but Lilja clearly knows, like Maupin, that characters have foibles, odd habits, and more going on in their lives than may appear at first glance. It adds to the depth of story, and really impressed me – I’ve described fellow Orenda alumni Rod Reynolds as a “natural writer,” and I’d put Lilja in the same bracket.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though…

No, certainly not – there’s also some funny moments too – one in particular sticks in my mind when Áróra falls off a table while attempting to install a piece of spyware in her mark’s ceiling, waking him – and has to explain her crashing to the floor as because she’s “just pissed” (which she definitely is!)

There’s also a possible romance on the cards for Áróra too – and not with the sexy but dodgy money launderer. But readers can discover that for themselves…

And the good news is…

The good news is, as well as being an utterly brilliant read, this is the start of a new series featuring Áróra – and hopefully some of her fellow characters from this opener!

Don’t miss this one!

My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blog tour, as well as being really understanding when I was unwell, and Orenda Books for the eARC.

Look back at the blog tour!

BLURB: Icelandic sisters Áróra and Ísafold live in different countries and aren‘t on speaking terms, but when their mother loses contact with Ísafold, Áróra reluctantly returns to Iceland to find her sister. But she soon realizes that her sister isn’t avoiding her … she has disappeared, without trace. 

As she confronts Ísafold’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend Björn, and begins to probe her sister’s reclusive neighbours – who have their own reasons for staying out of sight – Áróra is led into an ever-darker web of intrigue and manipulation. 

Baffled by the conflicting details of her sister’s life, and blinded by the shiveringly bright midnight sun of the Icelandic summer, Áróra enlists the help of police officer Daníel, as she tries to track her sister’s movements, and begins to tail Björn – but she isn’t the only one watching…

Slick, tense, atmospheric and superbly plotted, Cold as Hell marks the start of a riveting, addictive new series from one of Iceland’s bestselling crime writers.

April 2019 – Blog Tour – The Island – Ragnar Jónasson

The second in the Dark Iceland series, after The Darkness, this is an utterly engrossing tale of two murders, exactly a decade apart. The first was solved by our police officer heroine Hulda Hermansdóttir’s colleague, Lydur (now her superior.) The accused – I won’t say who it was – committed suicide in custody, sealing belief in their guilt.

Ten years on, the brother, Dagur, and close friends (Benedikt, Alexandra, and Klara) of the victim, Katla, travel to the uninhabited island of Ellidaey for a reunion – but only three make it to the end of the weekend. As Hulda digs into the background of those present, she finds out about the original murder, and is convinced the answers to her case lie somewhere in that investigation – causing her to bump heads with Lydur, who definitely doesn’t want his findings examined too closely. That case was also primarily responsible for him climbing up the promotional ladder above the diligent Hulda, who also suffered due to the institutional sexism still ingrained in the Icelandic police at that time. (The first murder occurred in 1987, the second in ‘97.)

To be honest, a five word review would perfectly sum up what I thought of The Island – I LOVED THIS BOOK! Jónasson (whose Dark Iceland series with Orenda Books has been a massive hit, and rightly so – I’m a colossal fan!) ratchets up the tension tighter and tighter, so we are cheering on the unlikely heroine Hulda, who has a tragic backstory of her own. It is essentially not dissimilar to an Agatha Christie novel (whose novels Jónasson translated into Icelandic) – there are only three suspects, as the island is otherwise deserted. Added frisson comes with the question of how this is connected to the murder of the quartet’s friend and sister a decade previously, giving Hulda two murders to solve…as well as the opportunity to see the insufferable Lydur knocked off his ill-deserved pedestal. The well-portrayed spooky atmosphere of the deserted Elldaey also left me feeling uneasy as I read late into the night…

It’s difficult to say much more without dropping spoilers. I must admit to being a big fan of Icelandic Noir, partly because of settings like Elldaey and the way writers use such desolate landscape to give readers a feeling of unease. I particularly enjoy Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Arnaldur Indridason, and Quentin Bates. Ragnar Jónasson is demonstrating with each book he writes that he more than deserves a place amongst such hallowed company. Victoria Cribb, who also translates for the first two mentioned above (Bates writes in English), provides as ever a seamless translation.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve found my concentration pretty poor while I’ve been in hospital, and I’ve been guilty of getting halfway through books before abandoning them for another title – something I’d rarely do at home. This definitely wasn’t the case with The Island – I romped through it faster than nearly any other book since I’ve been in hospital! Here’s hoping it’s helped my concentration heal.

Highly recommended.

I received a proof copy from Penguin Michael Joseph books, but this is an unbiased review.

BLURB: Elliðaey is an isolated island off the coast of Iceland. It is has a beautiful, unforgiving terrain and is an easy place to vanish.

The Island is the second thrilling book in Ragnar Jonasson’s Hidden Iceland trilogy. This time Hulda is at the peak of her career and is sent to investigate what happened on Elliðaey after a group of friends visited but one failed to return.

Could this have links to the disappearance of a couple ten years previously out on the Westfjords? Is there a killer stalking these barren outposts?

Written with Ragnar’s haunting and suspenseful prose The Island follows Hulda’s journey to uncover the island’s secrets and find the truth hidden in its darkest shadows.

Why Did You Lie? – Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Product Details

BLURB: The Sunday Times top crime read of the year.

A journalist on the track of an old case attempts suicide. An ordinary couple return from a house swap in the States to find their home in disarray and their guests seemingly missing.Four strangers struggle to find shelter on a windswept spike of rock in the middle of a raging sea.

They have one thing in common: they all lied. And someone is determined to punish them…

Why Did You Lie? is a terrifying tale of long-delayed retribution from Iceland’s Queen of Suspense.

The title of this latest standalone novel by the “Queen of Icelandic Noir” is the question anonymously in letters of three seemingly disparate people, or groups of people. Firstly, there’s Nói, Vala and their 15-year-old son Tumi, who return from a house swap in the US to find their house in disarray, their American guests missing, but having left behind some of their belongings, as well as notes bearing messages asking why they lied, or variations of the same question. Then there’s the four people (Heida, a female engineer who’s to fit radio equipment in the rock’s lighthouse; two male workmen, Ívar and Tóti, there to do basic repairs; and Helgi, a male photographer who’s taken the rare opportunity to tag along and take pictures) stranded out on the rock, as the helicopter due to return to collect them 24 hours later develops problems, and the claustrophic nature of the situation, as well as suspicions of each other set in – particularly when their number is reduced by one, with one of the mysterious notes discovered in Tóti’s bloodstained sleeping bag. Finally, there’s a policewoman, Nína, whose seemingly hitherto content journalist husband, Thröstur, attempted suicide and is now on a life-support machine, with Nína sitting night after night as she has to make a decision about when it’s switched off.

The novel moves between each group of people, drip-feeding us clues and ramping up the tension almost unbearably, then moving on to the next group, as we try to work out the connection between them, what the lie was, and why it’s so important to someone – and who that person is. It’s possible to figure out who that person could be when we discover, thanks to Nína (who uses her position as a pariah in the police station to dig for clues in the basement she’s meant to be clearing out) when the lies were perpetrated. But who they are now is an entirely different story – as are the lengths they could go to to punish those they see as the transgressors. Are the tormenting notes enough to unsettle the victims – or could they go so far as to kill?

Sigurdardóttir has an admirable understanding of human psychology, and although they geographically fall into the ScandiNoir category, the events described in her books could happen anywhere in the world, so even if you don’t consider yourself a huge fan of books set in cold dark Northern places, don’t let that put you off. The interaction between her (always realistic) characters is what makes her novels so readable and authentic; the settings are secondary.

This is only the second Yrsa Sigurdardóttir book I’ve read since I was lucky enough to meet her at Bloody Scotland – the first was Someone To Watch Over Me, which is one of the series of six Thora Gudmundsdottir books (so far) about a lawyer and which I’ll review soon. And I’m delighted to have another two here to read. I’m now a firm fan and she will definitely be in the autobuy category for me from now on. She’s excellent at sending shivers up your spine in the most innocuous situations, and leaves most of the crowded market of so-called “psychological thrillers” standing. Little wonder she won the prestigious Petrona Award in 2015 for The Silence Of The Sea – and don’t bet against her winning again sometime soon!

Very highly recommended.

Purchase a copy  from Amazon UK, or support your local bookshop or library.

I’d like to thank the publishers Hodder & Stoughton for my copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.