Harm versus trust and sense of security.

When wealthy doctor Ríkharður Magnússon goes to sleep in his luxurious caravan and doesn’t wake up, detectives Guðgeir Fransson and Elsa Guðrún are called to the Westman Islands to investigate what looks like murder. Suspicion immediately falls on Ríkharður’s young, beautiful and deeply troubled girlfriend – but there are no easy answers in this case as they are drawn into family feuds, disgruntled friends and colleagues, and the presence of a group of fitness-obsessed over-achievers with secrets of their own.
As their investigation makes progress, Guðgeir and Elsa Guðrún are forced to confront their own preconceptions and prejudices as they uncover the sinister side of Ríkharður’s past.

Iceland is such a small stunning country, with magnificent out-of-this world landscapes, inspiration and creativity flowing from the nature and presenting themselves in unique art and culture, the society based on equality and with the perception that everyone is fairly happy and satisfied. And of course all that is and can be true. Yet as we have already gleaned over the years from the literature and the films, the glossy surface of any environment often hides secrets, big and small, shocking or embarrassing, personal trauma or issues that nobody really wants to talk about. In Harm / Skaði, published in October 2021 in Iceland, and the third novel from Sólveig Pálsdóttir now available in English in Quentin Bates’ superb translation, these perceptions and stereotypes are examined sensitively and in detail.

Pálsdóttir’s calm unhurried trademark style flows throughout her writing. However, it does not mean that it impacts pace or narration. Instead, the right tempo, combined with the insights into psychology of individuals and groups creates an absorbing intriguing literary journey into past and present of complicated personal and familial relationships. She takes an incident or an event that must be resolved by the police and analyses it on all levels, as it reverberates in various circles of affected people. Her main protagonist detective Guðgeir Fransson oversees the investigation into the suspicious death of a wealthy confident doctor, fifty-two-year-old Ríkharður who was found dead in his luxurious caravan at the camp site on a beautiful island. His two decades younger girlfriend Diljá Sigurðardóttir becomes an obvious and typically a logical suspect: she fled from the scene and her personal history indicates serious mental health issues. Here the first red flag appears: immediately everybody is convinced that the young woman had murdered her much older partner. Guðgeir and his colleague informally question four close friends who were on holidays with the pair: two couples who are health and wellness fanatics, sure of own physical prowess and way to live their lives. Although shocked by death, Ingi Thór and Eygló, plus Ásmundur and Katrín, don’t appear to be very concerned as Ríkharður was a new member of this established group, had different interests, and drank too much anyway. Guðgeir takes everything into account, consults with his superior Særós, and thinks. And that he does to perfection. Facts, evidence, statements, reactions are important as they form the basis of exhaustive investigation. Open mind and compassion provide extra layer to the process. Diljá’s past included many problems that affected her mental state and self-confidence, and relationship with her daughter Maríu Líf, leading to losing trust in people in position of authority. Her friends have seemingly sorted lives yet are drawn to the alternative rituals to assist them in dealing with complex personal issues: ‘people genuinely believe that they are in touch with some higher power and that they are cleaning up their lives.’ But the evident order in life or wealth-induced respect don’t guarantee contentment: ‘They were all searching for something on a spiritual level, and all of them either had a difficult youth or had suffered a trauma of some kind, or both.’ By linking current grim reality of murder in Westman Islands of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago and the South American spiritual fantasy of ayahuasca experience, the author weaves a complicated but vital thread to understand what really matters.

Pálsdóttir’s earlier novels in English translation are The Fox and Silenced. All three show another side to the Icelandic society, and an affable rational and sympathetic detective who is not afraid to query his own ways of thinking, and the ingrained opinions that he might have acquired over the years. Through that prism the author makes us also stop and reflect for a moment on how we see others. Guðgeir might not be in the mavericks’ police league but as an astute human being he is best placed to support his family, colleagues and any victims of crime. And that’s we need in the turbulent times.

Harm was published on 27th August by Corylus Books.

Sólveig Pálsdóttir
trained as an actor and has a background in the theatre, television and radio. In a second career she studied for degrees in literature and education, and has taught literature and linguistics, drama and public speaking. She has also produced both radio programming and managed cultural events. Her first novel appeared in Iceland in 2012 and went straight to the country’s bestseller list. She has written six novels with Reykjavík detective Guðgeir Fransson as the central character, and a memoir Klettaborgin which was a 2020 hit in Iceland. Silenced / Fjötrar received the 2020 Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic novel of the year and was Iceland’s nomination for the 2021 Glass key award for the best Nordic crime novel of the year. She took part in several crime fiction and literary festivals such as Bristol’s CrimeFest, Newcastle Noir, Aberdeen’s Granite Noir and Iceland Noir. Sólveig lives in Reykjavík.

Quentin Bates has professional and personal roots in Iceland that run very deep. He worked as a seaman before turning to maritime journalism. He is an author of series of nine crime novels and novellas featuring the Reykjavik detective featuring Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gísladóttir. In addition to writing his own fiction, he has translated books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Guðlaugur Arason, Einar Kárason, Óskar Guðmundsson and Ragnar Jónasson. Quentin was instrumental in establishing Reykjavík’s crime fiction festival Iceland Noir.

I’m delighted to share my thoughts at the start of the blog tour for Harm. Please follow the other bloggers, and enjoy the third novel in the Ice and Crime series by Sólveig Pálsdóttir.

No Place to Run by Mark Edwards

Scarlett Faith was fifteen when she travelled across the world from the UK to visit her big brother Aidan in USA. She was curious and excited, but also bored to the back of her teeth with their parents’ inability to understand what she had wanted to achieve in life. She has not seen Aidan for a long time and hoped that he would appreciate her passion for protecting the Earth, for trying to save it for the next generations in the face of incoming destruction.

First outing in Seattle and she was nearly lost in the all-encompassing powerful demonstration where protesters wanted more climate action, waving slogans like ‘There is no planet B’ and ‘Our house is on fire’. Pilgrimage to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s place proved quite thrilling, until her brother got involved when a man talked about a special tribute gig. Yet, the music didn’t feel as urgent as the environmental issues. Then Scarlett vanished from the city, totally and completely disappeared which created a huge irreplaceable hole in the family’s life. Two years of fruitless investigations and searches and still no sign of the young woman. Aidan never gave up, feeling both guilty and responsible for what has happened under his watch; he still believes she is alive.

Lana Carrera refuses to believe that her younger brother Samuel has died in a recent wildfire. She wants answers and hopes to find him but the locals in the area hate her ‘loose cannon’ determination, warning her to forget conspiracy theories, or else. But Lana continues to question everything as she suspects police cover-up and the unexpected hostility of those who should be supportive in the face of growing occurrences of missing teenagers.

After an invitation to join a secret WhatsApp group, student Kristin Fox travels to Eaglewood. She wants to become part of the conscientious team with other environmental activists who take the climate change seriously. She is ready to train and work with them at the Ranch, and to complete important drastic missions to save the Earth. Soon though she notices that abundance of drugs and various reckless dangerous men have too much presence in the environment meant to be clean and inspiring.

And Shannon Reinhardt, charismatic leader of the Ranch where together with her wingman Jimmy she has been recruiting eco-warriors. She is a passionate visionary, strong independent woman, who after a spiritual awakening made her life mission to fight climate threats. And even though she would definitely not chosen that word herself, Shannon leads a cult.

Mark Edwards

The action of No Place to Run is set in and around a fictional Californian town where the undercurrent of secrecy and violence runs under the surface of ordinary life. The Mayor Christopher Hood seems to have all under control. However, as Aidan follows the vague trail based on a possible sighting of a young woman looking like Scarlett, he meets strange characters and unreliable police force, and begins to realise that lofty ideas and business deals hide something very sinister.

There are futuristic concepts which actually take us back to the nearly biblical notions of survival of the strongest and the best who would be able to take care of the planet and its resources in the future. Mark Edwards takes the original idea to the extreme. In this case fires, rather than melting glaciers, symbolise the apocalypse. Female characters, including a small appearance of an older lady Francesca who gave Aidan new hope, drive the story, even though it’s Aidan’s personal ‘detective’ investigation. Mark Edwards pulls all threads and weaves a tight net of emotions that capture your attention and stop your breathing when the tension and terror take over. And the visual aspects of his writing style make his latest novel an intensive AND slightly disturbing treat with the adventurous elements to boot. Read it at your peril. In fact, just read it!

Mark Edwards’ No Place to Run – Bookshop.org No Place to Run – Amazon is out on the summer solstice 21st June 2022, published by Thomas & Mercer. Huge thanks to Rhiannon Morris of FMcM Associates for the opportunity to join the blog tour.

Kalmann by Joachim B. Schmidt

‘The Greenland shark is a miracle of nature, even though it wouldn’t win any beauty contest. It has a marvelous sense of smell, probably better than that if a dog […] is far down on the seabed, two hundred metres deep or two thousand metres deep, it doesn’t matter to the shark.’

The above information is essential if you are serious about catching sharks. Also, you need to be aware of their various habits, and what they like to eat to make a success of hunting for these enormous creatures. By the way: ‘it’s a complete nonsense that red-haired children used to be used as bait – even though you could use them if you really wanted.’ It’s not a job for the faint of heart or those who cannot properly commit and just want an easy catch. But of course, Kalmann knows everything about this subject and that’s why he is also the best shark-catcher in the tiny village located on the northeastern tip of the Melrakkaslétta peninsula, in the north of the country. In fact, he’s renowned for producing the best hákarl, the fermented shark meat delicacy which could easily kill people with its powerful stink. But it doesn’t kill. Hákarl is appreciated only by some connoisseurs, and Kalmann is fine about it. He is familiar with how the village inhabitants live, react and deal with life; he feels responsible for them; after all he is the self-appointment Sheriff of Raufarhöfn; complete with a cowboy hat, a sheriff badge and an ancient Mauser, physical memories of his American father. Wise and courageous, he takes pride in protecting people and every day he treks across wide plains, hunts Arctic foxes and keeps an eye on any reckless polar bears that might feel inclined to swim from Greenland to Iceland. His routine keeps him grounded and relatively happy, though he makes no secret of his wish to find a wife urgently, OK, his first girlfriend. Basically things are fine. Well, sometimes his brain works in a truly strange way but at the age of nearly thirty-four he is definitely not a village idiot even if he didn’t spend much time at school and was called a retard, and eats too much of Cocoa Puffs (but ‘never for lunch. That was my rule’). He relies on his gut feeling, in times of need wants his mother who works as a nurse in Akureyri, and desperately misses his Grandfather who slowly withers away in a residential home in Húsavík. Yes, that Húsavík of Eurovision Song Contest: The story of Fire Saga fame. And Akureyri that you might have read about in Oskar Guðmundsson’s The Commandments.

Back to the small community… When one day towards end of the winter Kalmann discovers a pool of blood in the snow, the sequence of very small events threatens to overwhelm him. He accidentally tells someone about his discovery, police are notified, and he realises that local businessman Robert McKenzie, otherwise known as the King of Raufarhöfn, is missing. But is there any connection between this disappearance and what Kalmann has seen? Is the existence of almost deserted village in peril? Was Robert eaten by a large animal or killed by the East European mafia? Detective Birna arrives from Reykjavik, and suddenly the remote isolated spot on the Icelandic map, 609 kilometres from the capital, becomes more news-worthy than a political summit.

Just to be clear: grass does not feature in Kalmann

If you had no interest in Icelandic flora and fauna before then now it’s time to get acquainted through Kalmann’s eyes and his simple but wise thoughts. Joachim B. Schmidt’s mission seems to be enlighten us in the manner of glorious madness akin to TV series Fargo or the Finnish author Antti Tuomainen’s fictional universe. We have snow, cold and some darkness; weird characters and formal protocols; gossip and stereotypes; tenderness and compassion. What we don’t have is the corpse or the visual evidence of the crime, and we’re not totally sure about the motive as speculations get wild. As the police investigation progresses and Kalmann’s head begins to explode from the contradicting theories and invasion into his calm naïve existence, we also get rough dark humour and realisation that we might live in parallel worlds where events can be seen and understood in contrasting ways. The background of serious issues such as losing fish quotas and impact of the changes on the lives of people dependent on stable climate: social and meteorological, adds to the beauty of this unusual and rich novel superbly translated by Jamie Lee Searle. You will love Kalmann.

People need rules in life, that’s important, because otherwise there would be anarchy, and anarchy is when there are no police and no rules and everyone does whatever they want. Like setting fire to a house, for example.

The author Joachim B. Schmidt was born in Grisons, Switzerland in 1981 and emigrated to Iceland in 2007, where he now lives with his family in Reykjavík and works as a journalist, writer and tour guide.

Kalmann – bookshop.org / Kalmann – amazon was published by Bitter Lemon Press in May 2022.

End of Summer by Anders de la Motte

Veronica, a bereavement counsellor, cannot move on after the disappearance of her small brother Billy twenty years ago. The boy was never found nor seen ever again, though some people think he was murdered. When a strange young man comes to a group therapy session and talks about his lost childhood friend, she is drawn to him and hopes to find some answers.  

I have been a fan of the Swedish author Anders de la Motte, a former police officer, for a long time, and reviewed at least a couple of his previous books MemoRandom and The Silenced, both translated by Neil Smith. This one called End of Summer / Slutet på sommaren was first published in 2016 and shortlisted for the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award for Best Swedish Crime Novel.  

Returning to the small community and the childhood place to deal with secrets, trauma or unanswered questions is one of the recurring leitmotifs in Swedish crime fiction. Often the capital city of Stockholm features as some kind of promised Mecca even if it does not meet the expectations nor fulfil dreams. Usually travelling back to a certain location takes the protagonist to the past which has been a reason for feeling unsettled or unable to move on with own life. These practical and emotional journeys are far from easy but provide rich intense background for the stories, becoming engrossing for the reader.

In Anders de la Motte’s latest novel Veronica tries to quieten and ignore the constant feeling of frozen ice in her heart. Her four-year-old brother Billy disappeared twenty years earlier while chasing a rabbit one night during summer of 1983. The local police spared no efforts to find the boy, investigated all possible leads and eventually arrested Tommy Rooth, a local man infamous for his disregard for law. Evidence against him didn’t lead to conviction. Soon after being released Tommy vanished from the face of the Earth which prompted now-firmly rooted gossip that even without finding the boy’s body, he was a child killer and would not be able to remain in the small community. The events destroyed the family. Devastated mother Magdalena didn’t manage to cope with depression and eventually committed suicide, leaving her husband shell shocked and Veronica (then called Vera) and her older brother Mattias desperate to escape from the village. The long shadow of the unsolved case and failure to catch the killer as that was the conclusion, marked lives of many people.

Back to the present. Veronica trained as a bereavement counsellor and we meet her as she tries to rebuild her personal and working life following a serious breach of professional conduct. She is self-aware and conscious enough to admit her addictive nature, finding refuge in other people’s grief. When a young enigmatic man joins a therapy session, she cannot help but to feel strange hope that maybe he is the grown-up Billy who somehow had survived and did not die years ago. Against better judgment she is drawn to Isak and compelled to return to her childhood home and lonely father, still mourning her mother.

End of Summer’s translation by Neil Smith is superb. The nuanced style manages to flow between different times: current search for the truth and the past recollections of the investigation. As Veronica is no detective, her digging in the painful memories and trying to understand what had really happened, bring drama and suspicions wherever she turns, especially when she ignores her Uncle Herald telling her to stay away from old tragedy, and from Isak, the bearer of bad news.

Author paints a close-knit community, hard-working and tough, and apparently under the thumb of that powerful Uncle. The book, full of tension, and capturing mood of the surrounding forests and fields and the loneliness of urban life, creates intense moving backdrop for exploring all these recollections and their long-lasting impact. Grief and loss are described in a sensitive way, and the overall effect of the emotional discovery of truth is both difficult and beautiful. A stunning intricately plotted novel.

Linda Regan’s The Burning Question – giveaway

What better way to celebrate today’s publication of The Burning Question, the latest novel by Linda Regan, than a giveaway!

Let me do some introductions first.  

DCI Paul Banham and DI Alison Grainger are back, and this time they are investigating the tragic death of a young woman who was burnt in her own home. When another identical arson attack is soon reported, Grainger and Banham are on the hunt for a link between murders, unaware that the new trainee Detective Constable, Hannah Kemp, already knows the connection. Hannah was on duty in the riots ten months earlier which led to her being kidnapped and then time off work and she is very keen to prove herself again. She also knows that if she comes forward with the information, her own past will come to light, and she will potentially lose her job. However, if she doesn’t speak to her superiors, more women will lose their lives. Hannah realises that she knows who they are, and she thinks the arsonist – their attacker will stop at nothing to keep his ring of illegal prostitutes earning. Once he realises Hannah is now a police detective, she might also find herself in mortal danger. As the clock ticks against her own life, she must decide whether to stay quiet for the sake of her career, or risk everything she has worked for to stop a ruthless killer once and for all.

With masterful suspense, Regan reunites readers with her well-liked protagonist DCI Banham and DI Grainger who are partners in crime, so to speak, and in life, and delivers one of her most chilling cases yet… The novel is set in the gritty backstreets of London and packed with the descriptions that add authenticity and fast-paced dialogue, some risky banter and unforgettable characters. We can remember them for their morally-questionable behaviour and motives, and the lively mixture of lowlifes and big money.

Linda Regan is a prolific writer of crime fiction books, and I had a pleasure to hear her speak at Deal Noir festival in 2016, at the panel with fellow authors Guy Fraser-Sampson, Daniel Pembrey and William Shaw, focusing on the setting and location in crime fiction novels. After winning a worldwide writing competition with her novel Behind You! (2006), she published seven more novels, including Passion Killers (2007) which was selected as a Sunday Observer pick of the year. Since then, she has written the immensely popular DI Johnson series (2015) and the DCI Banham series (2019).

In addition to her writing, Linda is also a much-loved actress of stage and screen, known for her recurring role in the hit BBC sitcom Hi-De-Hi, and guest appearances in popular shows The Bill, Birds of a Feather, Doctors, and Holby City. Before joining the cast of Hi-De-Hi, Linda started out in a comedy dance troupe in her youth before going on to a lead role in the West End production of Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen. Playing such vivid and iconic characters throughout her career, has helped Linda to develop character-focused stories that bring a uniquely immersive filmic quality to the page. Linda uses her personal experiences to write her signature brand of ‘strong crime’. All of her novels are set in South London, where Linda writes with meticulous knowledge of the landscape where she grew up and currently lives with her husband, actor Brian Murphy.

All you need to win a copy of The Burning Question is to head over to my account @sh_ewa on Twitter, and like and share this pinned tweet. You might comment if you wish… The competition is open to UK only, and closes at 13:00 on 13th May.  

Everything Is Mine by Ruth Lillegraven

As I began to become familiar with the story, I had a sense that the strong social context would be a separate character in a way it is, as so much of the protagonists’ personalities is shaped by their upbringing and the current situation. The introduction to Everything Is Mine brought Anne Holt to my mind, a formidable writer whose outlook is similar, and about whom Val McDermid once said that she ‘is the latest crime writer to reveal how truly dark it gets in Scandinavia.’ Indeed, several chapters later Holt is mentioned as an example of what unpredictable fate can bring for a minister: ‘Minister of Justice Anne Holt got sick and retired to write crime novels.’ Although Ruth Lillegraven’s focus is also on the social injustice, her individual writing style is in a league of its own, and adds new voice to the NN genre, driven by strong narration and detailed observations that creates both drama and authenticity in the lives unravelling before our eyes.
Clara and Henrik lead busy professional lives, committed to their causes and believing in their work. They are dedicated caring parents to their twin boys, and good members of the community. That’s what obvious to everyone. However, behind the successful façade of a well-off family settled in an affluent part of Oslo, many issues remain unsaid, hidden, secret and on the verge of exploding. That emotional eruption will happen and both feel that it’s unavoidable at some point in the future. It is triggered by simultaneous events. Clara is a single-mindedly ambitious child rights activist at the Ministry of Justice. Her work on the new bill, huge amount of effort, research and lobbying comes to a halt when the proposal is shelved. The bill’s aim was ‘to ensure that all employees of all public institutions feel a stringer sense of responsibility for sounding the alarm in the event of any suspicion of violence or abuse.’
Henrik’s world gets shaken when a small Pakistani Norwegian boy is admitted to Ullevål Hospital (where he works as a paediatrician), dies in his care, and clearly is a victim of abuse. The boy’s father behaved in a threatening manner, and enough signs show that violence was dominating element of the family’s existence. Soon a body of a man was discovered on the grounds of the hospital, connecting this crime to the boy’s death, and more killings are happening in the city.
As the couple deals with the upheaval, we learn more about things they had wanted to keep buried for a variety of reasons. Clara has always felt like an outsider in the capital, having grown up on a farm in western Norway and knowing everything about nature, fjords, animals, and hard physical work. She never mentions her mother, still mourns her little brother, and always relies on her father. She is an unshakeable tower of strength. On the other hand, Henrik has lived a relatively easy urban sophisticated life and inherited a beautiful villa which is their home now, and was the first person in the family of lawyers that went into medicine. They are not the same : ‘Henrik likes to call me the ice queen. He cries at the drop of a hat. I haven’t cried since that day thirty ears ago.

Everything is MineBookshop.org Amazon), translated by Diane Oatley, brings together important issues and thrilling action, and very smart complex plot. This thoroughly gripping intelligent thriller made a huge impression on me as Lillegraven effortlessly takes the readers through unexpected twists and surprises, and asks questions about the motives of every character. And those are varied and plentiful. I especially enjoyed the contrast between what we think we know about the modern Scandinavian society and values, and what might be concealed underneath choices that are made when facing very difficult situations. Clara, Henrik and their colleagues feel a sense of responsibility and sense of injustice at various degrees. They want to make a difference or they just want to survive. In the aftermath of crimes of neglect, and following the police investigation into related murders, suspecting Henrik and unsettling Clara, Lillegraven makes a strong point of how and if people can deal with injustice. Backdrop of stunning nature and the welfare state are not always what it seems…      


Easter is in the air and if you follow any book-related Scandinavian traditions, then crime at Easter or påskekrim, the one firmly established in Norway, is definitely for you. Påskekrim is the time to enjoy all types of crime fiction, both on screens and on pages of very popular novels. Last year I recommended Smoke Screen by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger. Now I will share my reading plans though I doubt I will mange to complete my current TBR list within the next days.

Let me take you to Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Switzerland and England.

Håkan Nesser’s The Lonely Ones, translated by Sarah Death, is the fourth novel of the quintet featuring Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti (Pan Macmillan, Mantle, October 2021). In 1969 six young people arrive in Uppsala, Sweden. Different circumstances push the three young couples together and, over the course of a few years, they become friends. But a summer trip through Eastern Europe changes everything forever, and when their time at Uppsala University is over it also signals the end of something else. Years later, a lecturer at Lund University is found dead at the bottom of a cliff in the woods close to Kymlinge. And chillingly, it is the very same spot where one of the Uppsala students died thirty-five years before. Detective Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti takes on this ominous case of history repeating itself, and is forced to confront an increasingly grave reality. I love Nesser’s calm methodical style, and my review of The Root of Evil, second novel of the series, was published on Crime Review pages.

Max Seeck’s The Ice Coven in Kristian London‘s translation (Welbeck, September 2021) follows The Witch Hunter and is the second instalment in the Detective Jessica Niemi series. In this thriller Jessica faces the darkest case of her career. A young woman’s corpse washes up on a near-frozen beach, and then, two famous Instagram influencers go missing. All three have ties to a cult, famous for their cruel and violent worship. But before Jessica can save the girls, an old enemy emerges and threatens to destroy her. Soon, she is hunting for much more than just the truth.

Viveca Sten’s In Bad Company, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Amazon Crossing, January 2021) is the ninth novel of escalating suspense of the Sandhamn Murders series. Building a case against Andreis Kovač is a risky strategy for prosecutor Nora Linde. A violent key player in Stockholm’s drug trade and untouchable when it comes to financial crimes, he has the best defense money can buy. To topple Andreis’s empire, Nora’s working a different angle as her critical witness is Andreis’s wife Mina who has suffered her husband’s rage too long. Still carrying the traumas of the Bosnian War, Andreis can be triggered like an explosive, and must be taken down. And as the trial looms, Mina and her infant son must disappear. The police have found her a safe place to hide on Runmarö Island in beautiful Sandhamn’s archipelago. But there’s no shelter from a man as powerful and merciless as Andreis, especially when he’s being crossed.

Anna Enquist’s The Homecoming, translated by Eileen J Stevens (Amazon Crossing, April 2022) peers deep into the passions, losses, and reveries of the wife of eighteenth-century explorer Captain James Cook. After twelve years of marriage to English explorer, Elizabeth has yet to spend an entire year with her husband. In their house by the Thames, she moves to the rhythms of her life as a society wife, but there is so much more to her than meets the eye. She has the fortitude to manage the house and garden, raise their children, and face unbearable sorrow by herself. As she prepares for another homecoming, Elizabeth looks forward to James’s triumphant return and the work she will undertake reading and editing his voluminous journals. But the question is if the private life she’s been leading in his absence will distract her from her role in aid of her husband’s grand ambitions. Also, she’s not sure if James can find the compassion to support her as their family faces unimaginable loss, or whether she will have to endure life alone as he sails off toward another adventure.

Ruth Lillegraven’s Everything Is Mine translated by Diane Oatley (Amazon Crossing, March 2021) focuses on family secrets, revenge, and righteous fury which collide in this bestselling novel of psychological suspense and intrigue. The married couple Clara and Henrik live in a beautiful inherited villa in Oslo. She is a single-mindedly ambitious child-rights activist at the Ministry of Justice. Having grown up in rural Western Norway, she is also an Oslo outsider. Henrik is a doctor from a well-to-do Oslo family. Though their marriage is under serious strain, they share a devotion to their twin sons and their work. Outwardly, they’re a successful couple both dedicated to saving lives. But when a Pakistani Norwegian boy, a victim of child abuse, admitted to Henrik’s hospital dies in his care, and a related murder rocks the city, a chain of events unearths years of trauma, secrets, and buried resentments at the heart of the couple’s relationship. Then the veneer of normalcy begins to fall away.

Hansjoerg Schneider’s Silver Pebbles, translated by Mike Mitchell (Bitter Lemon Press, January 2022). A Lebanese man carrying diamonds in his bag is on the train from Frankfurt to Basel, a drug mule on the return journey. At the Basel train station Inspector Hunkeler is waiting for him after a tipoff from the German police. The courier manages to flush the stones away in the station WC. Erdogan, a young Turkish sewage worker, finds the diamonds in the pipes under the station. To him they mean wealth and the small hotel he always wanted to buy near his hometown. To his older Swiss girl-friend Erika, the stones signify the end of their life together. She knows that Erdogan has a wife and children in Turkey. For the courier, finding the stones is a matter of life and death. His employers are on their way to ‘tidy things up’. For Hunkeler the stones are the only way to get to the people behind the drug trade. They turn out to include not only the bottom feeding drug gangs, but bankers and politicians very high up the Basel food chain.

And another Swiss author: Joachim B Schmidt and Kalman, translated by Jamie Lee Searle (Bitter Lemon Press, May 2022). Kalmann is the self-appointed Sheriff of Raufarhöfn. Day by day, he treks the wide plains which surround the almost deserted village, hunts Arctic foxes and lays bait in the sea – to catch the gigantic Greenland sharks he turns into the Icelandic fermented delicacy, hákarl. There is nothing anyone need worry about. Kalmann has everything under control. Inside his head, however, the wheels sometimes spin backwards. One winter, after he discovers a pool of blood in the snow, the swiftly unfolding events threaten to overwhelm him. But he knows that his native wisdom and pure-hearted courage will see him through. There really is no need to worry. How can anything go wrong with Kalmann in charge? He knows everything a man needs to know about life – well almost.

Enjoy Easter and påskekrim!

Karitas Untitled by Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir

The story of a woman trapped in a predestined life of conventions and societal expectations is as old as the world itself. And so is a woman artist who has to forge her right to express herself artistically which in turn would allow her to live her life fully. Does it get better these days? There are more opportunities but can the society let go of what women are supposed to contribute, to be free and creative? Karitas Jónsdóttir is on the difficult path surrounded by the harsh reality of existence in the brutal Nordic climate and the constant fight to find money and food, in the first half of 20th century in a country where art was appreciated yet not easy to reach for all, when the backbreaking physical labour was essentially the only way to stay alive. Karitas lived in a fishing village and in the capital of Denmark, got used to the modern technology and went back to a turf hut. So much of the ancient and the new mixed together!

In one of her interviews Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir said that equal rights were at the top of her mind when she began writing novels. That theme forms basis of her rich and complex novel Karitas Untiled / Karitas án titils (first published in 2004) and makes a portrait of a young untraditional artist all the more powerful and poignant. However, Iceland is a character in its own right, with the emotionally sensitive portrayal of the nature, landscape, seasons, and fauna and flora. And people. These elements influence Karitas’ first shy encounters with painting, trying to catch shapes and contrasts, experimenting with light and shade. They are the very first step in the process of learning which was noticed by a rich lady who decided to give some drawing lessons to Karitas and then send her to Copenhagen to study for five years. The classic photographic reflection of the world on paper and canvas was the way to catch attention of some of the art connoisseurs yet Karitas longed for the more modern abstract ways to create, to capture emotions, to thrive. But being an artist had to wait as Karitas’ responsibilities took over. Marriage, children, many years without her husband.

To be able to think clearly, you need a lot of light’. Baldursdóttir weaves the threads of various experiences to understand the yearning of an artist and to respect women who had lived through the hardship: ‘What an extraordinary woman your mother is. He loses her husband at sea and picks up and leaves with her six children in order to provide them with an education. Circumnavigates the country with them in the dark hold of ship but makes it to her destination, washes fish, knits woolen clothing, and manages to get all of her children into school. She never lost sight of her goal, that woman. They have always been known for their toughness, those people in the Westfjords. Though they’ve always dabbed in black magic, of course.’ Men feature in the book; the fisherman and the sailors, the farm workers and the pillars of society that still has a long way to go in terms of emancipation, introduction of modern technology and personal freedom. But the motion of strong-willed women is what pushes some of the progress and development, which includes personal growth and personal motivation to decide. ‘Black magic’ might be a loose term but nevertheless it encompasses ancient Icelandic traditions and beliefs. Hidden people or elves appear to guide and protect. A ghost helps to deal with trauma. The nature is full of hidden secrets.

The solemn majestic beauty of the Icelandic landscape adds to the literary magnificence of the novel, and often stops you in tracks when reading. The same happened to Karitas who had to endure death and loss, the unknown and the uncertainty. She longed for internal chaos to be a better painter, hoping for understanding and recognition. Yet this has been a long painful process which involved her personal turmoil.

I feel that the novel’s apparent abrupt and unexpected ending makes perfect sense in the context of global historical events. It encompasses wealth of emotions and some conflicting decisions. Karitas’ life on the book pages starts in 1915 with WWI’s distant echoes in Iceland, and concludes just after Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning in of WWII. We know that in the 1940’s war came much closer to this small nation. We are not privy to Karitas considering her future, yet I think it might be fair to say that she would focus on truly expressing herself as a painter. And I wish her all the luck.

Growing up on a farm in early twentieth-century rural Iceland, Karitas Jónsdóttir, one of six siblings, yearns for a new life. An artist, Karitas has a powerful calling and is determined to never let go of her true being, one unsuited for the conventional. But she is powerless against the fateful turns of real life and all its expectations of women. Pulled back time and again by design and by chance to the Icelandic countryside – as dutiful daughter, loving mother, and fisherman’s wife – she struggles to thrive, to be what she was meant to be.

The author Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir might not be so well known in the UK but is one of Iceland’s most acclaimed writers and the internationally bestselling author of numerous novels, including Karitas Untitled, nominated for a Nordic Council Literature Prize; Street of the Mothers; Chaos on Canvas; and Seagull’s Laughter, which was adapted for the stage and also into an critically acclaimed film. She received her degree in 1991 from the University of Iceland, studied in Germany and Denmark, and has also worked as a teacher and a journalist. Among Kristín Marja’s many honours are the Knight’s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon for her achievements in writing and her contributions to Icelandic literature, the Jónas Hallgrímsson Prize, and the Fjöruverðlaun Women’s Literature Prize. She lives in Reykjavík.

The award-winning translator Philip Roughton worked on many of Iceland’s best-known authors, including Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, Jón Kalman Stefánsson, Þórarinn Eldjárn, Bergsveinn Birgisson, and Steinunn Sigurðardóttir.

Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir

Huge thanks to FMcM Associates for the chance to read this thought-provoking novel, and to share my loose thoughts for the blog tour. You can now purchase Karitas Untitled – Bookshop.org.uk Karitas Untitled – Amazon.

Walpurgis Tide by Jógvan Isaksen

Jógvan Isaksen’s Walpurgis Tide was originally published in 2005 but the first introduction of the author and his writing into the English-speaking world came in 2016 thanks to the translator John Keithsson and Norvik Press. I always read forewords and translators’ notes if there are included in any book. They often provide insight into the background of the main story and also into the nature of the language which in turn make it more intriguing for me. Though the thriller Walpurgis Tide is gripping from the very suspenseful first pages and would not require any further encouragement. A couple of young British environmental activists are found dead, with their throats cut, among the massive carcasses of slaughtered whales. This has happened during the controversial grindadráp, an annual whale hunt, a bloody and terrifying event. The hunt is a centuries-old Faroese tradition, part of the national identity for people who have lived on these remote wild islands in the North Atlantic. The hunts are also notorious for stoking the fire of the international disputes, with violent and brutal aftermath.

The Faroese journalist Hannis Martinsson believes that hunting for these huge mammals in such a way will have to end soon, especially as the whales themselves are so polluted with heavy metals that their meat and blubber are toxic. The traditional food is becoming poisonous. Yet as a Faeroese he cannot ignore the fact that fishing industry makes a lot of money that could be lost if boycotted by other countries.

Hannis has just returned to his country after years of living abroad, mostly in Denmark, and isn’t quite sure what to do with his life and how to earn a living. He rents a small office in a building that has seen better days but has an advantage of being in a very central location in the capital city of Tórshavn. While Hannis repaints his office and considers a vague career as a consultant, writing for the foreign magazines and newspapers, he also decides to keep away from the international storms which always follow news of grindadráp. Alas, that’s not on the cards. A strange overconfident British man Mark Robbins asks him to investigate a double murder of two victims, Jenny McEwan and Stewart Peters who were sent on behalf of his organisation, the Guardians of the Sea to observe the hunt and gather information with an aim to get it banned. Extremely reluctantly Hannis takes on the assignment and as well as the money, as Robbins presents him with a threat to destroy the country if the murderer is not found, with the repercussions that would also reach Denmark. He begins the undercover investigation; however, within hours his new employer is dead. Hannis works both methodically and chaotically, chasing names and connections, and trying not to get killed in the process. The mystery leads him to discovery of more bodies, and foreigners involved in the fishing industry, and a very personal revelation.

Faroe Islands are mysterious and romantic, stunningly raw and beautiful and deadly dangerous, traditional and modern. An uncharted territory and a dream destination for the modern travellers. As a self-governing autonomous Danish territory (I hope I got it right) their citizens veer between firmly sticking to the ancient Norse customs and rules, and looking into the European future, while gambling with some potential oil-riches. They have a complicated relationship with Denmark so there’s no surprise that Hannis is often on the receiving end of the animosity felt by those who never venture from the islands, and insulted as a Dane-lover. Isaksen creates an authentic relatable portrait of a man who sees his home country from the outside perspective, and thanks to his experiences abroad, this view if full of sharp ironic observations, as well as timid love. Hannis appears to be an old cynic, world-weary and disillusioned when it comes to his career and personal relationships yet full of dark sarcastic humour and brilliant insights into the tight-knight society: ‘Choir singing is like one of the plagues of Egypt. You can’t take a step without hearing choir singing […] Have the nerve to turn a radio on, and you’ll have four-part harmony thrown in your face.’ He even feels ‘the primal instincts of a hunter; an intoxicating feeling of the joy of life amid the slaughter’ when at sea. He regrets never getting married, smokes indoors, drinks too much, appreciates younger women but keeps a distance – and finally does return to his ex-girlfriend.

‘Yes, I was at church this morning. That’s why I’m in my confirmation suit. I don’t wear this every Sunday. But when a female priest comes to preach, and a good-looking one at that, you have to go to church. Also just to annoy those people who are against women priests […] Those bloody Danish priests that rush up here trying to ban women from preaching in God’s house. What on earth are they doing? Do they want us to become independent just to be free from them?’

I enjoyed Walpurgis Tide, its pace, engrossing style and richness of observations that make this thriller feel authentic and original. Having read Chris Ould’s Faroese trilogy set in Faroe Islands featuring an outsider with Faroese roots, and also David Hewson’s Devil’s Fjord where the hunt becomes a central event, akin to a predestined saga, I appreciate and am familiar with the tradition of the whale hunt, mood and atmosphere of the islands. Both authors’ evident fascination with the location inviting the stories to be told are hugely enjoyable, as well as tense and captivating. I read a comment saying that Ould’s books are better than Isaksen’s; however, I believe they are equally gripping; just told at different times and from different angles, and focusing on slightly different elements of the history and culture of this geographically distant nation.

I also feel that Hannis Martinsson could become one of my favourite reluctant heroes; similar to the Norwegian PI Varg Veum in his lone-wolf approach to dig deep into the hidden layers of truth, disturbing the superficial peace. Hannis is being shot, threatened and pursued by a mysterious sniper, and treated like a very annoying fly in the ointment by the local police. I am also very curious about Trom, based on four of Jógvan Isaksen’s novels which has just premiered on Nordic streamer Viaplay. Trom is the first ever TV series filmed in the Faroes, and created by screenwriter Torfinnur Jákupsson who has finally fulfilled his long term ambition. Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen takes the centre stage.

Translator John Keithsson worked from the original Faroese text and the Danish translation by the author. This method allowed him to fully bring both the story and social context into English, and to ensure that this unforgettable book was comprehensible for the readers outside the Nordic universe. He did a magnificent job.

A Memory for Murder by Anne Holt

Anne Holt is a force to be reckoned with. Her professional career as a writer, lawyer and a former Minister of Justice provided her with a rich experience she draws upon. Holt’s perception of the current affairs gives her the best perspective of the world she creates for her characters. Combined with understated yet commanding writing method, precise narration and detailed observations, her style is unique and formidable, and also reflective. She creates tough female protagonists; independent women that know their own strong points and equally realise what their weaknesses are. This awareness does not always appeal to others, and that includes the readers. However, they do not need to be liked or admired. Some understanding of their motives, or the situations they find themselves in, helps to relate to them but I would say that the complexity of personalities, and some traits considered unattractive in the society add tension and drama to the stories that Holt tells so well.  

A Memory For Murder is a remarkable slow burner of a thriller taking in complex social and political issues, and questioning the nature of Norwegian welfare state in the context of the European Court of Human Rights. Of course these themes are the basis for equally complex portrayal of the main and secondary characters, and all and any possible links or connections between them. As in the previous novels in the series, A Grave for Two, and A Necessary Death, which was shortlisted for the Petrona Award 2021, Selma Falck is the centre of the investigations. Former athlete, high-flying lawyer and celebrity, she now makes a living as a private investigator. She lives independent solitary life and chooses to answer to no one. With her fragile family ties Selma’s focus/obsession is only on one small human being, her grandson Skjalg. The current book offers enough background to explain why her own daughter Anine is so reluctant to keep in touch; earlier books expand on this theme. Hence thinking of Skjalg becomes the main reason for her to investigate a case that otherwise she would have left to the police. It also keeps her gambling addiction at bay and gives her hope to see the little boy. 

It all started with a late lunch with two friends at the outside restaurant in Oslo’s district of Grünerløkka. A sniper shot and killed her oldest friend, unremarkable junior MP Linda Bruseth while the stray bullet travelled through the victim and hit Selma’s shoulder. Everyone, including the police and more importantly, Anine, assume that Selma was the main target. Initially she thinks that as well but soon realises the impossibility of this, even though a stalker seems to plague her life on top of this. But the invisible intruder who enters her flat or leaves objects that have not been seen for years does not present fear of such violence, although unsettles Selma. Maybe she was the collateral damage…

Soon after the shooting a Supreme Court Judge Kajsa Breien is found hanged from a tree branch. A woman diminutive in posture but gigantic in spirit, could not have committed suicide though. Selma knew her, too, and finds a link between two victims as they both have been involved in challenging child welfare cases. She doesn’t discover the connection on her own though; however, she is much quicker to see beyond the obvious aspects of both deaths and to form a plausible theory.

Although Selma’s brain and emotions are on fire and she thinks with a lightening speed, she does not work in a vacuum. Three men assist her in the sphere of inquiries, and like everything in her professional and personal life, the working relationships with them are complicated. A journalist Lars Winther, summoned by his boss, reluctantly takes on an investigative work left by his recently deceased colleague. Jonathan died in a cycling accident and had access to articles and encrypted files that clearly pointed at some scandal within the child services. Second man central to the search for clues and motives is the police superintendent Fredrik Smedstuen, not a maverick nor a brilliant lone wolf, but ‘a policeman of the grey type’, a disillusioned divorced hardworking man who decides to trust Selma’s thinking. ‘He did what he had to do, no more nor less, and followed the rules to the letter’ and finally found himself in the middle of explosive controversy.

And there is Einar Falsen, traumatised ex-policeman, a man totally shattered by the system and his mental breakdown, who, however, remains Selma’s closest friend and confidante, and when feeling safe and healthy, he offers the most insightful advice. Over the course of three novels Einar became a rock in Selma’s existence, even if he still suffers from serious delusions. Looking back at his life this is totally understandable, and I admire Holt for creating such a poignant human being.

‘Pussycat had once been called Darius after a fabled king of Persia. His territory at that time had been vast and even though he was an expensive pedigree cat, he enjoyed most of all roaming through the gardens around the villas on Ormøya island, hunting for mice and small birds. Despite his noble antecedents in the Middle East, he had never stayed indoors for more than a few hours at a time. Whenever a collar had been put on him, he had come home without it. No one had ever discovered how he managed to get rid of them. Darius was a free spirit. Now he was called Pussycat and lived in an area of fifty square metres with a man who took him out for fresh air, on a leash, in a park, a couple of nights a week. Pussycat had never been happier. He was living with a true cat lover.’

The novel’s original title is significant. Mandela-effekten or ‘Mandela effect’ refers to the false memories and misremembering, a phenomenon of a situation in which a huge number of people believes that an event occurred although it did not happen at all. Holt’s methodical analysis and deep reflections present a version of a society based on trust in the authorities and the scenarios where this trust is broken. This relates to personal experiences impacted by the decisisons taken by various government branches. As it happened Holt started writing A Memory For Murder just before the pandemic engulfed us, so confidence and faith in the governments are particularly critical and relevant, also for a character responsible for ensuring safety of the society in case of any possible disaster.   

‘A slightly crazy lady, I’ve forgotten her name, was sure she remembered Mandela dying while he was in prison. She could describe his funeral down to the last details. Which in that case must have happened while he was still a prisoner on Robben Island. Before 1990, that is, not in 2013.’

Anne Bruce’s translation is superb as always, bringing Anne Holt’s impressive style and nuances of the Norwegian language to the fore in this crisp sharp look at the society, a book that is also engaging, riveting and full of red herrings.