Harm by Sólveig Pálsdóttir

Harm by Sólveig Pálsdóttir

It’s my pleasure to review another notable Icelandic mystery published by Corylus Books, “Harm” by Sólveig Pálsdóttir. (Here’s a link to my review of another book from Corylus, “The Commandments” by Óskar Guðmundsson.) Harm is Book 3 in Pálsdóttir’s Ice and Crime series, and I can highly recommend the first two installments, “The Fox” and “Silenced”.

All of Sólveig Pálsdóttir’s novels have been shortlisted for the Icelandic Crime Fiction Awards and have been praised for their narrative, attention to detail and sympathetic characters.

Sólveig Pálsdóttir

“Harm” has been deftly translated into English by Quentin Bates, who is also a wonderful author in his own right, of an Icelandic mystery series following Reykjavík detective Gunnhildur Gísladóttir.

Quentin Bates

Harm features Reykjavík detective Guðgeir Franssson and his colleagues. I really enjoy Guðgeir as a character; but then I always love a great curmudgeon! What seems to be a relatively simple case turns out to be deceptively complex, which has always been one of my favorite characteristics of Nordic Noir mysteries.

Harm is a compact book which is by no means a criticism. Pálsdóttir chooses each sentence carefully and her words speak volumes. Here’s an example from Chapter 1 (no spoilers, I promise).

It took the barman a painfully long time to deal with this simple request, and
Ríkharður decided that the guy had to be a little on the slow side.

Two important plot points are revealed in this sentence. First of all, Ríkharður is obviously not a very nice guy, and second…well, the sentence contains a hint, but I didn’t spot it until the second time around (I always read a book I’m reviewing first, and then skim it again to highlight content for the review). This is one of the aspects I found so captivating about the book; it offers subtle clues that only revealed themselves (at least to me) on the re-read.

Ríkharður is traveling with his much younger companion in a caravan, meeting her friends in the Westman Islands. He is uncomfortable with the group, due to the age difference and his insecurities about his relationship with Diljá. He arrives at the restaurant that night noticeably drunk, and things go downhill from there. The next morning, Diljá finds him dead in their bed. To say the least, she does not react calmly. Pálsdóttir’s depiction of Diljá, who is dealing with some mental health issues, is sympathetic and penetrating.

So, was Ríkharður murdered and if so, whodunnit? More than one person has a plausible motive. However, Pálsdóttir is so skillful that the solution, when revealed, is both surprising and makes perfect sense. This is a very satisfying book, and a great addition to the series.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Quentin Bates’ seamless translation…no, I don’t speak Icelandic but I’m learning some phrases for my trip there later this year. I mean that there is never any stiltedness or awkward phrasing in his translations and I always look forward to his work as an author and a translator.

To sum up, I greatly enjoyed “Harm” and I think you will too! Although it is not absolutely necessary, I prefer to read serial mysteries in order, to follow the development of the continuing main characters. Here is a guide to the Ice & Crime series in order of publication. Please buy or order “Harm” from your local independent bookstore! Check Indiebound or for audiobooks, Libro.fm.

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