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Crime in a cold climate


Tis the season for a chilly thriller. Author and Iceland resident Lilja Sigurðardóttir reveals her favourite crime novels set below freezing. Her new novel, Cold as Hell – translated by Quentin Bates – is published by Orenda Books on 28th October.

As autumn settles into mainland Europe, winter approaches the northern parts of the continent with fast-dwindling daylight and nights ever frostier … particularly here in Iceland. Some crime-fiction fans like to grab themselves some ‘Sunshine Noir’ to warm up, at this time of year, while others prefer to succumb to the season and read cold-climate thrillers instead. If you fall into this category, my list of recommendations will see you through the chilly months.

Sólveig Pálsdóttir is an Icelandic author, recently published in English for the first time. Her thriller The Fox is a favourite of mine. It has strong elements of horror but is still Nordic Noir, with a clear social undercurrent. The central character is Sajee, a young immigrant from Sri Lanka who arrives to the village of Höfn in South Iceland in the hope of working in a beauty salon. It turns out that the job she has been promised is not at a beauty salon but on a farm where the work is hard and far from glamorous. But her arrival to the farm triggers some unhappy memories for the lady of the house, who feels she needs to correct the mistakes of the past. At the same time there is a new arrival to the village of Höfn: disgraced and divorced former Reykjavík detective Gudgeir, who has a hard time getting over his past and becomes obsessed when Sajee disappears.

It is hard to decide which book of Will Dean´s Tuva Moodyson series to recommend so it is probably wise to start with the first one, Dark Pines. The main character of the series is a young reporter reports on crimes in the area where she lives, a forested area of Sweden, and finds it hard not to dig deeper and deeper until she is out of her depth. Tuva is also deaf and that creates another layer to the story as she is in a way isolated in her own comfortable, quiet world, but is forced to put in her hearing aids to be able to deal with her job and the ugliness that comes with it. In Dark Pines, she investigates the mysterious case of some elk hunters, who are found dead in the forest … murdered in a gruesome way. Some elements of the murders seem to connect to an unsolved series of murders from twenty years earlier, prompting Tuva to investigate.

Unfortunately, only one book of French-Swedish author Olivier Truc has been translated into English but that one is oh-so-good. Truc writes stories that take place in Northern Norway, home to the indigenous Sami people who are fighting to keep their heritage and culture alive. In his book Forty Days without Shadow, a Sami reindeer herder is found dead and the same night a precious ancient Sami drum is stolen from a local museum. Two local police officers, Nina and Klemet, who is Sami himself, start to investigate the crimes and soon discover complications and high stakes in this already tense environment, as extreme Christian groups hold a grudge against the Sami and a mining company has its eyes on the region. And all this takes place the day that the sun rises after forty days of full darkness. An Arctic thriller of the best sort.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is, by any measure, the queen of Icelandic crime fiction and a top claimant for the title in the whole Nordic Noir genre. She both writes detective series and standalone books that could be classified as horror, and they are terrifying and brilliant. In my opinion, I Remember You is one of her best, and it has been adapted into a film with the same title. The book won the Drop of Blood (Icelandic Crime Fiction Award) and was nominated to the Glass Key (Nordic Crime Fiction Award). The story centres around a group of friends who buy a house in an abandoned village in an isolated fjord in West Iceland. They get ferried there to do some renovating work on the house they intend to use as a summer house but soon after they arrive, they discover that there is a mysterious presence there that wants them to leave. Another mystery unfolds as a village doctor across the fjord investigates a suicide of an old woman and discovers that she was obsessed with the young doctor’s little son who disappeared. Since I am recommending her books, it should be noted that Yrsa and I are not related although we share a patronym and are indeed sisters in crime. I should also mention that it is not advisable to read this book alone in a summer cottage out in the country in the dark of a winter night, as I did.

Icelandic Óskar Guðmundsson has his first book out in English soon, called The Commandments. The story is led by Detective Salka Steinsdóttir, who comes across a murder victim she recognises as the suspect in another crime she had investigated at the beginning of her career. The investigation leads her into complex rings of power that prove challenging to investigate: the Icelandic state church and the police force. But as she draws closer to uncovering the truth, a vigilante killer always seems to be one step ahead of her. Before The Commandments, Óskar wrote two books about another female detective, Hilma, who takes on organized crime like no other. I really hope English-speaking readers get the chance of reading more of Óskar’s work in the future.

It goes without saying that I also recommend all the truly brilliant stars of Nordic Noir published by my own publisher, Orenda Books, including fellow Icelanders Eva Björg Ægisdóttir and Ragnar Jónasson; Norwegians Thomas Enger, Agnes Ravatn, Jorn Lier Horst, Kjell Ola Dahl and Gunnar Staalesen; Finnish authors Kati Hiekkapelto and Antti Tuomainen; and our ‘guest’ Nordic author Johana Gustawsson, whose French Noir thrillers are partly set on the west coast of Sweden.

Cold as Hell, translated by Quentin Bates, is published by Orenda Books on 28th October.