Deceit – Jónína Leósdóttir


Deceit - coverTitle
– Deceit

Author – Jónína Leósdóttir (translated by Quentin Bates & Sylvia Bates)

Published – October 2022 (in English translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

Deceit is Leósdóttir’s first book to be published in English, the translation brought to us by the partnership of publisher Corylus Books and author/translator Quentin Bates. It’s the first book in a new Icelandic crime series about detective Soffía and her ex-husband, Adam, a psychologist who helps the police during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s been interesting to see how the pandemic has been treated in fiction (both written and on TV). In this instance the author is tackling it head on and using the early days of the pandemic and lock-downs as the setting. Iceland is usually a location that isolates its characters and the early days of COVID only emphasises this.

The main character is Adam – his work has been largely halted by the pandemic and he’s paranoid about catching COVID; he’s asked by his ex-wife, Soffia, to help when a number of small but malicious actions are discovered. The depleted police force is used as part of the premise for asking for Adam’s help and he manages to stick with the investigation right through to the climax. They have a tense relationship and some of their backstory is revealed during the course of the book – they are opposites (which they say attract).

The investigation ramps up as a variety of other incidents occur, despite the lockdown, and the consequences become more sinister.

The characters all bring something to the story although I have to confess that I found the extended family that becomes embroiled in the investigation hard to keep track of. There were a few instances where I felt I had cottoned on to an aspect of the story that the author was aiming to hide – which made me feel quite pleased with myself – although I may be overstating my perceptiveness!

The title is a theme that runs through the whole of the book and applies to most of the characters. In fact one of the few people not hiding an aspect of themselves is the brash and abrupt Soffia.

As ever the translation was in safe hands – Quentin Bates is, first and foremost, an author in his own right – which means that the book is seamlessly translated.

It’s good to see that this is the start of a series, I would certainly like to read more about Soffia and Adam.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Deceit - poster

Two reviews – Martin Walker

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I’m a big fan of the ‘Bruno, Chief of Police’ series by Martin Walker. I managed to forget that I had two new titles on my kindle from NetGalley which then came as a lovely surprise, only for me to read them in the wrong order.

Both reviews are below – in the order of publication.

71tSF7vhzgLTitle – The Coldest Case

Author – Martin Walker

Published – 2021

Genre – Crime fiction

Bruno has a bright idea to help JJ solve a case that has haunted him for 30 years. After seeing the lifelike reconstructions of skulls in the Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies, Bruno thinks that the skills would help to identify the victim using the skull that JJ has hung on to – to that end he enlists the help of a young graduate who can recreate the face of the murdered man. Reigniting interest in the case has surprising implications in the present day.

There is a thread to the story about a secret document and the sharing (or not) of the information between different security services. I have to say that I really didn’t follow the ins and outs of this!

While all of this is taking place an intense heatwave brings the threat of fire to the region – something Bruno helps to plan for and then has the opportunity to perform some heroics when the worst happens.

The book features the usual mix of local politics, wide circle of friends, horses and dogs and, of course, the food and cooking.

I did enjoy the story but there were a few slightly discordant notes for me. The first was the complexities of the political issues surrounding the secrecy document.

The second was that while a fair proportion of the story involved the reconstruction of the dead man’s skull, in the end it all seemed immaterial to the solution to the case.

Finally there was a connection between the two threads that was either stretching credibility or I failed to see the logical connection.

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71eUF63rYlLTitle – To Kill a Troubadour

Author – Martin Walker

Published – June 2022

Genre – Crime fiction

In this instalment Bruno is involved in organising a local a folk music festival which will feature “Les Troubadours” from the Périgord. Their latest song is ‘A Song for Catalonia’ – at a time when the Spanish government is keen to clamp down on the idea of Catalan independence. The song goes viral when the song is banned in Spain – attracting some unwanted attention for the members of the group.

The second investigative thread to the story occurs when a wrecked car is found on a back road and a specialist sniper’s bullet discovered inside it. Concerns about an assassination attempt appear to be closer to home when it’s discovered that the car was reportedly stolen on the Spanish frontier.

While all of this is going on Bruno is asked to help his friend, Florence, after her former husband is released from prison. It comes as news to Bruno that Florence had been abused by her husband and he enlists the help of all and sundry to try to help protect Florence.

What this shares with ‘The Coldest Case’ is a lot of historical information given within the course of the novel which feels a bit like overload. I did enjoy the story – with the inevitable cosy-ish crime feel that you get from the ‘Bruno’ series, however there have been stronger books.

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A few short reviews – Kellerman, Gerritsen, Hallett and Turton

I really do seem to have got out of the habit of posting reviews and my reading is a bit patchy, but nevertheless the pile of ‘read but not yet reviewed’ books is getting taller. So this will clear a few. 

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First up – one of the few books that I’ve been sent by a publisher (although it is from las year).

Title – The Burning

Author – Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman

Published – 2021

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the fourth in the ‘Clay Edison’ series – I read and reviewed #3 previously on my blog.

Although I didn’t feel I’d missed out not reading the books preceding the third in the series, I’m not sure this book would have made much sense if I hadn’t read ‘Lost Souls’. 

Clay Edison is the Deputy Coroner in California, he’s called to the murder scene of a wealthy victim, a man who appears to have been a collector of all sort of different things. During a search of the extensive garage he spots a car that looks remarkably similar to one that belongs to his own brother. Edison decides to keep this information to himself – which sets him on course to pursue his own investigation.

The book is set against a series of fires in California, filling the skies with smoke, cutting homes and businesses off from the power grid, leaving Edison alone as his pregnant wife takes their daughter out of the area.

I was a bit frustrated by the plot, I’m not a fan of fiction where someone at the beginning hides something which they should have told the authorities about. In fact the way the story pans out it wasn’t dreadful and it linked in with he previous book, but the feeling of frustration stayed with me. 

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Next – a book I was sent for free but not as a review copy

Title – The Shape of Night

Author – Tess Gerritsen

Published – 2019

Genre – Fiction

I didn’t know what to expect from this book so when a young woman moved into an old gothic house in a close-knit coastal community I was anticipating crime fiction. I was a little surprised when it became more of a gothic horror / thriller with some vaguely erotic romance with a ghost. 

The main protagonist is a woman who has a secret that is haunting her and an associated alcohol problem. It’s one part thriller – what happened to the woman renting the house before her? Part ghost story – the house seems to be haunted by the original sea captain who owned the house. Part romance – both with the ghostly sea captain and the local doctor. 

It took me ages to read, I stuck with it is probably the best I can say. 

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Third – a book I bought for myself

Title – The Twyford Code

Author – Janice Hallett

Published – 2022

Genre – Crime fiction

I bought this based on how much I enjoyed The Appeal. 

In The Twyford Code the author has tried to find a different way of using ‘found footage’ to present the story, the text being a series of transcriptions of voice memos or calls stored on a mobile phone. The main protagonist is Steve, recently out of prison and trying to solve a mystery from his childhood. It’s partly a mystery and partly a book about trying to make amends. 

The plot was intriguing – based on the memories of a group of remedial readers at Steve’s school. Their teacher (Miss Isles) led them to believe that the world-famous children’s author Edith Twyford hid a series of clues in her books. What happened to Miss Isles on an unexpected outing with the group to Bournemouth? 

I confess that I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Appeal. Using the text of the calls (transcribed by ‘DecipherIt’ software) gave text using the vernacular, with lots of transposition errors or inaccuracies which made it quite a challenging read. In addition the story moves quite slowly, so it did take me a while to get to the end. 

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Finally –  review of another book I bought for myself

Title – The Devil and The Dark Water

Author – Stuart Turton

Published – 2020

Genre – Historical fiction

I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle but I was still intrigued to see what was next from Turton. 

As with its predecessor this is quite a mix of genres (as I write this review Amazon has it in “Metaphysical & Visionary”). Set in 1634 one of the main protagonists is the world’s greatest detective, Samuel Phipps, who is being transported by ship from Batavia (think Indonesia) to Amsterdam, to be tried for a crime. He is accompanied by his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes (goodness I found that first name difficult to read!). Even before the passengers and crew board the ship there are mysterious goings on and these carry on apace once the ship is at sea. Are these supernatural or do they have a more human source? When the first murder takes place we have a ‘locked room’ mystery to solve. 

This is one of many current books that uses a historical setting but imbues some of the characters with more contemporary attitudes –  something I’m not yet sure if I am comfortable with. 

This is quite a long book but it does pack an awful lot in – both in terms of plot, character development and back story. 

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Storm – Stephanie Merritt


Title
– Stormcover240635-medium

Author – Stephanie Merritt

Published – June 2022

Genre – Psychological thriller

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you’ll know that psychological thrillers can be a bit hit or miss for me, too often they fall into predictable tropes and centre around unlikeable characters – so it’s always a pleasure to come across a book that is a cut above the rest.

After a brief prologue the book opens as Jo arrives at a French chateau for an anniversary party; the guests are a group of university friends and their families – although Jo is on her own, her connection to the group through her late husband who was at uni with the men of the group.

On the first evening a young woman, Storm, arrives who says she is the girlfriend of one of the party who is yet to arrive. Her presence does nothing to soothe an already strained atmosphere. Jo hasn’t really recovered from the loss of her husband and her vulnerability plays a part in the way events unfold, she’s also an outsider and strikes up a friendship with Storm.

As the story develops it becomes clear that pretty much everyone has a secret, some more serious than others. I did get an inkling of where the story was going but what I thought would be the end actually took place around half way through the book and there were more twists and turns to follow. 

While the characters weren’t particularly likeable, many with no redeeming features, they weren’t written as caricatures – they came across in a very realistic way and believable way.

You often have to suspend disbelief in this genre however there were a couple of moments where the small details were so true to life that I had to admire their inclusion – when you’ve read the book one  would be what I think of as the ‘instagram example’.

I loved this book – it’s not meant as an insult to say this would make a great beach read. I managed to read ii in around a single day – when the sun was out and I could just sit and read in the garden, the setting of a posh house party at a chateau in the Dordogne has touch of escapism about it which is great when you’re taking a break.

Many thanks to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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A couple of books by William Shaw

It’s been too long since I posted any reviews – I have a stack of books that I can’t (well, shouldn’t) put away until I’ve written the reviews and some very kind publishers who have sent me proofs or Netgalleys and I really ought to share my thoughts.

So killing two birds with one blog post, here are two reviews of books by William Shaw. First up – the third in the Breen and Tozer series.

71x672GZsMLTitle – A Book of Scars

Author – William Shaw

Published – 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

I treated myself to the first three books in the series based on how much I had enjoyed Shaw’s Alexandra Cupidi / Dungeness series. Don’t think that because it’s taken me four years to get to the third book I haven’t enjoyed them – I’m more about delayed gratification than binge reading.

This series is historical, A Book of Scars is set in 1969, so recent enough that many readers can pass judgment on the authenticity.  Warning – spoilers, if you’ve not read the previous books in the series! When the book opens Tozer is no longer a serving officer and Breen has been staying at her family’s farm to recuperate from his injuries. The incapacitated detective is one that crops up a few times in crime fiction and the relief for the reader in this book is that we finally tackle the issue of Tozer’s murdered sister now Breen has some time on his hands.

Prompted by Tozer to nose around in the original investigation and to relieve his boredom, Breen learns that there were unpleasant details kept from the family. As they try to track down those who were involved in the investigation they start a chain of events that will bring trouble right to their door.

One of the suspects in the murder has a connection to Kenya and the Mau Mau rebellion which makes this a very dark story with some quite graphic scenes but a positive is that I learned a bit more about the conflict that I didn’t know before. So the scars in the title are both physical and emotional…

As a side thread there’s also the mystery of the Tozer’s lodger ,the young hippy Hibou – as you can imagine it’s not easy to keep a secret in the same house as Tozer and Breen!

The close proximity of living under the same roof, the investigation into Alexandra Tozer’s death and Helen Tozer’s pregnancy all bring additional tension to the unconventional relationship between the two characters. As great crime fiction can do so well, the book tackles some social issues – shining a light through fiction on some of the more unpleasant episodes from the past as well as some of the more mundane but no less important domestic issues. From my hazy memory of the period it feels true to the time and the author weaves in the detail of the period without making it obvious to the reader.

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My other recent read by the same author is actually written under the pen name of G.W. Shaw and is more action thriller than crime fiction.

hbg-title-9781529420043-31.jpgTitle – Dead Rich

Author – G.W. Shaw

Published – 2022

Genre – Thriller

This book is quite a contrast to A Book of Scars – with a contemporary setting, a superyacht in the Caribbean and a cast of brash and entitled characters.

I started reading this in March and while I’m reading a thriller featuring a Russian oligarch on a superyacht the very same people were hitting the news as the sanctions associated with the war in Ukraine bit. I felt like I was getting an insight into the lives of the people who were having their assets seized.

A young musician whose career has stalled post-COVID is invited by a girlfriend he hardly knows to join her on her father’s yacht. He walks into the middle of a dysfunctional wealthy Russian family who have fallen out of favour with some powerful people. The yacht is crewed by a a mix of loyal staff who have been living onboard and agency staff, drafted in at the last minute – and they outnumber the family members.

When the family comes under attack it’s not clear where the threat has come from and who the enemy is. The family and crew have to try to save themselves from the attackers and then deal with the aftermath of the attack – on a boat taking on water in the middle fo the ocean.

But once they make their way to dry land their problems aren’t over.

The luxurious setting makes this a great read for the beach and the twists and turns of the action will keep you turning the pages while you’re lying on your sun lounger.

Many thanks to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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Serpentine – Jonathan Kellerman


81L8CbiaCxLTitle
– Serpentine

Author – Jonathan Kellerman

Published – 2021

Genre – Crime fiction

It’s no surprise that the backlog of books I have to review (and distracting news over the last two years that’s impacted my reading) means that “bookpost” has pretty much dried up. However one stalwart publisher keeps me on their list and for that I am exceptionally grateful as they publish Jonathan Kellerman’s books!

This is number 36 in the Delaware / Sturgis series and it has a bit of a ‘cold case’ premise. A self-made millionaire inadvertently pulls a few strings and gets Sturgis’ help in trying to solve the murder of her mother, shot dead on Mulholland Drive 36 years ago. This is something of a ‘side of desk’ project – endorsed by his superiors but leaving him to get on with it on his own – but of course he has Delaware.

The passage of so much time and the flimsy previous investigations obviously hinder their progress. The plot starts with a lot of dead ends but slowly, as Sturgis and Delaware keep at the individual threads it all starts to unravel. Chasing down all the possible leads they find that the woman’s death may not be the only one connected to a more hedonistic time in the city.

There’s no escaping the issues with having a series that has continued for so long – either the premise must change or the stories become formulaic. In some aspects there has been a progression through the books, it’s not often that Delaware actually draws on his child psychology occupation in the way he did in the early books, Sturgis has become more of a maverick. But – the main characters remain the same and their interests (food, guitars) and location (LA) haven’t changed so there’s going to be a certain familiarity between the books. And I like the fact that I know what I’m going to get and it really fits the bill as the sort of crime fiction I enjoy. Long may it continue.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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No Less The Devil – Stuart MacBride

91Wvsjo-jULTitle – No Less The Devil

Author – Stuart MacBride

Published – 28 April 2022

Genre – Crime fiction

It’s odd how coincidences in reading crop up, this was next on my kindle so after Craig Robertson’s book I moved on to this Scottish-set standalone by Stuart MacBride. There are few other coincidences beyond location – more on this later.

The main character is DS Lucy McVeigh, quite a mouthy, feisty, independent police officer but one who has an unusual backstory.  She’s working in a team revisiting a flagging investigation into a serial killer ‘the Bloodsmith’ who has eluded them for seventeen months. It’s a small team, lacking motivation and support, carrying out tedious work retracing the investigation back to its beginning. She’s assisted (sometimes ably, sometimes less so) by her sidekick ‘the Dunk’ (DC Fraser).

At the same time she’s approached by a young man who has recently been released from prison. A convicted child killer when he was only a child himself, he’s looking for help – he was part of her study for her MSc and his approach piques her interest.

So the scene is set.

As they retrace the previous investigation’s steps, starting with the Bloodsmith’s first victim, Lucy and The Dunk stumble on to some recent activity – could they be the ones to solve the case?

The more pressure Lucy find herself under the more relevant her backstory becomes and eventually the reader finds out what happened to her and how this might affect her behaviour in the present. Gradually the pace of the action picks up and events spiral – with Lucy at the centre. And then you really need to suspend disbelief and allow the story to carry you along.

I saw someone else compare this to “Hot Fuzz” and I can see similarities, although the humour is more understated, the gore is more ‘overstated’.

In terms of similarities to The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill, as well as the location, there is the    main female character with the disturbing backstory and the deaths of lone people (the Bloodsmith’s victims may have been the sort of people Grace would come across in her line of work). There is also something about the lead characters and their narrative that has a common thread. 

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley. 

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The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill – Craig Robertson

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Title – The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill

Author – C. S. Robertson

Published – 20 Jan 2022

Genre – Crime

I’d like to remind people who’ve read my blog previously that Craig Robertson is one of my favourite contemporary authors, however as this book is published under the name C S Robertson and I’ve seen it referred to as a debut I wonder if that could be construed as a spoiler…

So – different name, different publisher but same excellent crime vibes!

Grace McGill is an unusual young woman with an unusual job – she’s the person that’s called in to clean a property when someone has died, but Grace specialises in deaths where the person hasn’t been discovered for weeks or months. Not a job for the faint hearted! She takes her job very seriously and even though the body will have been removed from the property before she starts her work she still feels a connection to the person who has died, she’s even been known to go to their funeral.

Grace lives a very solitary and insular life. She carries out her work alone, lives alone and her only relationship seems to be with her alcoholic father who is needy, demanding and generally unpleasant. Grace admits that she can find herself obsessed with things and as a way of ‘decompressing’ from her work she’s been making miniature dioramas of the homes she has cleaned. Something in the style of Frances Glessner Lee, called the ‘mother of forensic science’, who created dollhouse-size true crime scenes. But these are unexplained deaths not crimes…

Grace’s obsessive personality comes in to play when she cleans the home of an elderly man and is intrigued by some of the things that he’s left behind, stacks of old newspapers and a group photograph of five young men from the 1960s. In an effort to find out more about the man’s past she attends his funeral and even hosts his wake … and uncovers the beginnings of a mystery that stretches back decades. And Grace can’t leave it alone, her obsession sees her behave out of character – stepping out of her comfort zone to follow in the footsteps of another young woman who disappeared more than fifty years ago. This then takes the reader on a more traditional crime fiction arc with Grace as an amateur sleuth who gets herself into deep water. But Grace has hidden depths herself!

There are some unexplained actions by Grace but she’s such an odd and complex character that what doesn’t seem logical to the reader may well make complete sense to her! It’s tempting to say that she’s an unreliable narrator but she’s perhaps more of a deluded narrator.

Although we learn a lot about Grace’s backstory, I was still curious to know more about her and how she became the person in the book. The disadvantage of a first-person narrative is the reader’s inability to see the character as others see them and I’d have been interested to see Grace from someone else’s perspective – to see how strange (or not) she seemed to others.

An unusual lead character, an unusual perspective and a disturbing story with some twist and turns. I did enjoy the book and can recommend it as something different (but without appearing to be trying hard to be different) however I have to say that I probably get more pleasure from reading the Narey and Winter series.

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

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The Clockwork Girl – Anna Mazzola

71WhGz2TODLTitle – The Clockwork Girl

Author – Anna Mazzola

Published – 3 March 2022

Genre – Historical fiction

I throughly enjoyed Anna’s two previous novels and couldn’t resist requesting the NetGalley of her next title, due out in 2022.

Set in Paris 1750, the opening sees Madeleine, the daughter of a brothel owner, sent under duress to work as a chambermaid as cover for her real task – to spy on Dr Reinhart, an eccentric clockmaker. Madeleine’s task is to befriend his daughter, Veronique, and determine if there’s any truth to rumours of shady goings on.

I found it such an intriguing read because I really had no idea where the story was going. It’s an odd household and the hints of something untoward happening behind closed doors set up the tension from early on. While the house is a showcase for Dr Reinhart’s clocks that’s not his only skill and Madeleine is unnerved by his experiments in automata, although it’s for this skill that those in power seek him out. Veronique is an unusual girl for the period, she has ambitions to follow the same career as her father at a time when such things seem impossible and having been sequestered away in a convent she has a certain nativity about her. In the dark and ominous house the two young women strike up a tentative friendship but they are both guarded, both hiding dark secrets.

There is a small aside to the main plot after some young children disappear but this becomes more and more intrinsic to the story as children continue to disappear and the people become whipped up into a frenzy, convinced that this is all part of a plot by the police or a prince stealing them for nefarious purposes.

Against this backdrop Madeleine is forced to pursue her undercover investigations against her will and the clockmaker is pressured to deliver something astounding to Versailles.

I can’t recall that I’ve read a book set in this location and period before and the writing is very evocative. It’s obviously a time and place of huge contrasts (despite the fact that apparently opulent Versailles doesn’t smell as good as it looks!) with hunger and death on the streets of Paris for the less fortunate against the glittering decadence of Versailles. I thought that the opening was reminiscent of The Miniaturist, in the same way that Nella arrives at her new home and Madeleine has to step into the unknown in her new role.

This was a gripping and atmospheric read full of tension, mystery and secrets. The main characters are two strong-willed and likeable young women, prepared to make the most of what fate has dealt them. The climax had some disconcerting moments and I really was completely baffled right up to the end.

The cover looks gorgeous, I can’t wait to see it in my local bookshop and treat myself to a physical copy!

Many thanks to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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The Commandments – Óskar Gudmundsson

Screenshot 2021-11-30 at 21.22.23Title – The Commandments

Author – Óskar Gudmundsson (translated by Quentin Bates)

Published – October 2021 (in English translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

The Commandments is Guðmundsson’s third book, published in his native Icelandic in 2019, and the English translation is brought to us by the partnership of new publisher Corylus Books and author/translator Quentin Bates. Guðmundsson is also part of the current team organising the Iceland Noir crime fiction festival.

The opening of the book felt quite disjointed with some scene-setting from 1995, tense and graphic scenes that will make much more sense when the rest of the story has unfolded. Persevere!

Then we meet Salka Steinsdótti, standing in the middle of a stream in northern Iceland. Fishing aside, she has returned to Iceland from London and is in the midst of a divorce from her husband. After a murder which is connected to a case she investigated before she left Iceland she is co-opted by the local police to lead the investigation. This is where the story really takes off as it becomes a police procedural – albeit a dark and gruesome one.

The murder victim is a former priest who was investigated by Salka in 2010 following allegations of sexual abuse. Although he walked free at the time it appears that someone has waited to take their revenge. In order to succeed in leading the investigation Salka must deal with the resentment of the local police at her appointment, the inexperience of the young officer who is helping her and her own emotional baggage. In the course of the investigation – and a race to save other potential victims – she comes across the case of a missing teenager who was last seen with the dead priest in 1995; adding another layer of complexity as she tries to unpick the original, half-hearted, investigation into the boy’s disappearance. This is a small place and everyone seems to be connected – what a tangled web!

The theme – the sexual abuse of young boys by members of the Church – is obviously a disturbing one but despite the graphic scenes at the beginning of the book there is more left to the imagination of the reader than is described, however this isn’t at the expense of tension in the plot.

What the author doesn’t give us, though, is a feeling for the location. The book is a character study with Salka as the contemporary heroine but what you won’t get is a picture of the Icelandic setting.

I knew that the translation would be in safe hands – Quentin Bates is, first and foremost, a an author in his own right – which means that the English version the book is seamlessly translated.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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