It is my turn on the blog tour for this exciting Icelandic crime novel! Thank you very much to Anne Cater for my place, and also to Orenda Books for allowing me to obtain a free electronic copy.
Translator: Victoria Cribb
Published: 14th March 2020 (originally 2018)
Trigger warnings: Animal cruelty, rape, sexual abuse, child death
When a body of a woman is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, it soon becomes clear that she’s no stranger to the area.
Chief Investigating Officer Elma, who has returned to Akranes following a failed relationship, and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður, commence an uneasy investigation, which uncovers a shocking secret in the dead woman’s past that continues to reverberate in the present day …
But as Elma and her team make a series of discoveries, they bring to light a host of long-hidden crimes that shake the entire community. Sifting through the rubble of the townspeople’s shattered memories, they have to dodge increasingly serious threats, and find justice … before it’s too late.
As my eyes floated over the prologue, I was instantly drawn into the arresting atmosphere of this book. It felt creepy, menacing, and very much Nordic noir as this opening paves the way for an engagingly written yet occasionally unsettling police procedural that follows a fascinating case within a deeply immersive setting.
The story moves along at a relatively fast pace and uses the technique of dual timelines to very good effect, as it deals with some sensitive topics and uncovers a town with buried secrets. I liked the writing a lot, but certain characters suffer from a lack of depth and as such, that lessened the impact of the resolution.
Following the break-up of a relationship, police officer Elma has decided to leave Reykjavik to return to her hometown, Akranes. Soon after joining the local force, she is called to investigate the murder of a woman whose body is found beneath a lighthouse, partially submerged in water. She had been struck by a car, and then strangled.
After Elma and her colleagues ascertain the woman’s identity, they discover that she had grown up in Akranes, but had moved away as a teenager. Her husband soon comes under suspicion as it appears that marriage was far from a happy one, but then the focus turns to the events of her childhood and the upsetting events that she experienced.
The consequences of those events are still felt in Akranes, and the police investigation takes an interesting turn when more crimes come to light, as well as a link to a tragedy that took place a quarter of a century earlier. Elma is determined to look into every possibility, but her fellow officers are not as convinced that there is more to the case than what is on the surface.
I really liked the various avenues that this mystery took, beginning with the discovery of the woman’s body and then seeing the bigger picture gradually begin to emerge. My favourite aspect was learning more about the victim and her upbringing, but on the other hand there was relatively little to gain from the potential suspects, which sadly meant I was never really concerned about who the killer was.
The entire book is told in the third person, but over two separate timelines. It is primarily set in 2017, mostly following Elma’s perspective but sometimes switching to other characters. At the start of each chapter, it goes back to an event in the victim’s childhood, in the late 1980s and early 1990s when she lived in Akranes. These sections are written in italics, and they probably leave the strongest impact.
Elma’s narrative is written in such an engaging way that I easily connected with it and that helped me fly through much of the book, but when the present timeline switched to the point of view of the other characters, I did not feel quite as invested. Perhaps it was because they were not developed so well, and only provided me with a small amount of intrigue.
Although she is clearly dispirited after the end of her relationship, I mostly liked Elma. She is dedicated, hardworking, and while her personal life is a factor in the story, it never became an unnecessary distraction from the case and that is definitely a good thing. Her mother and sister were also both fun characters to get to know.
The victim was probably the most interesting character of all, and the author cleverly drip feeds information about her, which makes it hard to know if you should feel anger towards her, or sympathy. She is portrayed as a bit damaged and is definitely complex, while every little insight has you reading between the lines to see how it is relevant to the present timeline.
One of the outstanding features of this book was the setting. The author is from Akranes herself, and it really shows in the detail with which the landscape and the town’s customs are described. I loved the extra bits of information we get about Icelandic culture in general, too. It really gave the story an authentic atmosphere and a genuine sense of place.
The writing flows very well and although some of the content is a bit gritty in places, there are also times where the serene, conversational style feels quite cosy. I was really impressed with the author’s voice and her ability to blend the dark themes with the lighter ones in a sophisticated way. The only issues I had were with the structure and the fact I failed to connect with some of the other character perspectives.
Overall, this was a very neat and well plotted crime novel. The setting was evocative and beautifully depicted, while we have a protagonist who is easy to identify with. It was a shame I did not find myself more compelled to discover the outcome, but there was more than enough to like here which helped to compensate. It is definitely worth the read.
As mentioned in the review, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir was born in Akranes, the setting for this book. Originally published in 2018, The Creak On The Stairs is her debut novel and won the Blackbird Award, becoming a bestseller. It has since been picked up by Orenda Books. She lives in Reykjavik with her husband and three children.
Victoria Cribb has studied and worked in Iceland for many years and has translated numerous novels from the country into English. She received the Orðstír honourary translation award in 2017 for her contribution to Icelandic literature.
An enjoyable read with a smooth writing style and a mystery that investigated some fascinating themes. Not perfect, but I would certainly read more from this author.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
*I was given a free e-copy in exchange for an honest review
Check out the other posts on the blog tour!