Iceland Noir 2022

I’m in Reykjavik again. Home from home. Going from one cold climate country to another. This is my fifth time at the crime fiction festival, now with a slightly different dark twist, and my twelfth (thirteenth?) trip to Iceland. The country and the island that caught me and my my heart, and luckily will not let go.

‘Iceland Noir was born in 2013 over a curry in one of Reykjavík’s finer Indian restaurants. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates were idly wondering why Iceland had never had its own crime fiction festival. The idea gelled and by the time we all met again Crimefest in Bristol a few weeks later, it seemed we had all been thinking much the same thoughts and Iceland Noir was born on the spot.’

Iceland Noir’s programme is packed with darkness of all types: The authors and readers, the excitement, the books, the conversations, and the unique atmosphere of this piece of land that combines magic, traditions, stunning landscapes, fantastic creativity, ‘book floods’ as well as modern ills and controversies. But before the festival starts officially for most of the guests, although some events are already happening, I’m getting ready to chair my first panel with Louise Mangos, Jeff Siger, Paul Cleave and Thomas Fecchio, and enjoying silence of the chilly day. Yesterday sunshine painted the skies in incredible shades of pink. Today strong winds and cold rains might remind us that you don’t mess with nature, and have to respect whatever the Norse gods throw at you.

Crimes and Punishments

Punishment is a delight. The lightness of phrase, the floating of words, the strange yet highly charged calmness, and atmosphere of the unique legal language that connects ordinary people with the well-educated legal profession and makes the complex themes easy to understand. The way that translator Kat Hall brings the potential complicated German concepts to English, thus proving that she has not only talent for the context, nature and music of the language but also that she is best placed to work with the author. Her translation of von Schirach’s gripping prose is crisp and precise, and a joy to read.

Punishment is also a nightmare of loneliness, alienation, misunderstanding, desire to serve justice, and finding a way in the morally-skewed world. Redemption and revenge. Making choices and facing consequences. A man who values silence is driven to murder by his noisy neighbours. A cheated wife wanting revenge. People who feel no remorse and are not sorry. People who resign themselves to ‘fate’. They did what they had to do or so they thought…

All twelve compelling short stories seem unique. They are connected by the main character called Schlesinger, counsel for the defence who used to be a brilliant criminal lawyer but ‘had long since viewed himself as a ruin of a man’, even if his brain remains sharp (occasionally). Or does it? ‘He made a living from small cases – neighbourhood disputes, pub brawls and drug offences. His clients were street dealers who swallowed the little bags of heroin they had stashed in their mouths when the police came after them.’ Eleven stories made my brain wake up and enjoy the themes though of course I would have never wished to be in position of the main players. One story about sex-trafficking destroyed me. On one level I wished I have never read it, on another – I was so impressed by the reserved method of showing the incomprehensible cruelty of the world which is still there, and could affect anyone when power changes hands. I will not divulge anything more about Subbotnik which had such a huge impact on me and although I could not get images out of my head, I would recommend that readers absorb every word. The title taken from Russian ‘tradition’ has a different meaning here. I know you are getting curious.

Reading Punishment reminded me of another short story collection: An Elderley Lady is Up to No Good (Soho Press). The tone seems to be similar, intelligent and seemingly light; however, I don’t think the Swedish writer Helene Torsten based her stories on real life experience. But I can’t be sure. Here the author Ferdinand von Schirach makes no secrets about source of his inspiration. He was born in Munich, lives in Berlin now, and worked as a criminal defence lawyer for twenty years. He drew motives and situations from his professional career and created suspenseful tales precariously balancing between fiction and truth, and meandering between various legal paths which do not always help the victim. Legal loopholes exist in each system, in every country, and surviving difficulties in life means in real terms that it is the money that often takes precedence over fairness.

The bleakness of the crimes does not mean that moments of dark stoic humour and real compassion cannot coexist in this collection. Ferdinand von Schirach writes with passion and empathy, and I will definitely reach for his previous books. Here you can listen to the translator Katharina Hall reading from von Schirach’s Punishment, published by Baskerville in August 2022.  

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 – 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 – / 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 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 – Karitas Untitled – Amazon.