Translated by Quentin Bates
Nordic Noir fan that I am, it’s a delight to be today’s stop on the blog tour for Harm – the third book in Pálsdóttir’s Ice and Crime series published by Corylus Books who are specialising in Euro crime. Corylus’s list is small but growing with three Icelandic authors on their list. I reviewed one of their first titles, Sword by Romanian Bogdan Teodorescu back in 2020, but now I’m off to Iceland…
The novel begins with Ríkharður appearing rather drunk at dinner, crashing into another table, his girlfriend Diljá having to help him out.
The word ‘girlfriend’ swam back and forth through his muddled thoughts. This was a ridiculous term to use at his age, and then he remembered that she wasn’t that any longer. (p1)
Ríkharður and Diljá were weekending on the Westman Islands off Icelands SE coast with four of Diljá’s friends, two couples. Ríkharður at fifty-two is much older than the rest of them, and doesn’t share their sporty and alternative lifestyle outlook. Being a prosperous doctor, Ríkharður chose to stay in a luxury caravan with Diljá, keeping her to himself. She manages to get him to bed, leaving him asleep, creeping out, returning around 4am, creeping into bed and on awaking finding him dead!
‘You can’t do this to me!’ she howled, as she fought to draw long, gasping breaths. ‘Ríkharður, my love, you weren’t supposed to die.’ (p10)
She panics, running for the ferry, worried that given her history of mental health issues that she’s a prime suspect, and that they’ll take her young daughter away from her. Not a good move – she’ll trigger an all-points alert of course.
In steps the investigation team of Reykjavík-based detective Guðgeir Fransson and his colleague Elsa Guðrún, and it isn’t long before they discover reasons to believe that Ríkharður may have been murdered. The man-hunt for Diljá begins, and her friends are questioned about his state the previous night, as are his ex-wife and son who have rather different views of Diljá, whose status hinted at in the first sentence I quoted is confirmed. Needless to say, the solution takes its time to be revealed after the investigation goes down several wrong avenues, it is cleverly plotted, but I won’t say more.
Guðgeir is an interesting investigator. A new grandfather, you sense he is gearing up for retirement, having stepped down from running the Reykjavík CID. He remains a steady presence in the department though, now led by sporty and meticulous Saerós who had just come in from a run when she gets the call. Not having read the previous two books featuring Guðgeir Fransson, I did wonder what happened to make him step back… There are no mavericks in this department, they appear to all get on really well, which is odd in a police procedural! I found this a rather thoughtful crime novel, which reminded me of the Martin Beck books by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö; it was enjoyable and considered in the same way. We get some glimpses into the life of Guðgeir, which again made me want to find out what he was like before this third novel in which he features.
I didn’t really get any real sense of the Westman Islands, (of which Surtsey, which famously erupted into being in 1963 is one) but although an outdoorsy weekend may have been the goal of Diljá’s friends, it certainly wasn’t Ríkharður’s cup of tea and thus not really a big part of the narrative.
Quentin Bates is one of the foremost translators from Icelandic, and apart from all the names which you can’t escape, the text reads just as you’d hope, a seamless translation.
I must read the first two books in the series now, but I’d like to assure readers that this one stood well on its own. I’m looking forward to more Nordic Noir from Corylus Books!
Source: Review copy – thank you!
Flapped paperback original, 235 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P).