Category: Book Blog Posts

Murder at the Residence: A Mystery by a Mysterious Author

Murder at the Residence: A Mystery by a Mysterious Author

Who is Stella Blómkvist? I’ve read hundreds of Scandi/Nordic mysteries, and had never heard of her, either as an author or her eponymous detective. Although her books have been bestsellers in Iceland since the first book appeared in the 1990s (and has attracted an international audience for the Stella Blómkvist TV series), no one knows her true identity. Ultimately, this question takes second place to the enjoyment of reading “Murder at the Residence”, originally published in Icelandic as “Morðið á Bessastöðum” in 2012. Thanks to the translation by Quentin Bates, the sharp wit and bracing personality of Blómkvist and the twists and turns of the plot work come through beautifully.

The story begins on New Year’s Eve in 2009, in an Iceland that is still struggling from the aftermath of the financial crash. As Blómkvist writes:

A hundred days have passed since the banks collapsed, without a single politician or official resigning. Our slowwitted Prime Minister holds on tight to the reins of power at the cabinet offices on Lækjargata. The banking minister hasn’t stepped down…This was all after the privatised Icelandic banks turned into a scorched earth machine that would sooner or later blow the country up.

Lawyer Stella Blómkvist narrates in a dryly witty voice as she wanders through Reyjavik’s “fun palaces” and drinks her favorite “Tennessee nectar” (Jack Daniels). Stella is very open about her desires and sexuality, but laments that she’s “too old to be hunting at night”. She’s also an adoring mother to her young daughter, Sóley Árdís. Stella is a uniquely drawn character—smart, bold, independent, and untiring in her pursuit of the truth.

Multiple plotlines are introduced, and the pleasure of the book lies in how Blómkvist skillfully weaves them together. In a nightclub, Stella meets Dagnija, a Latvian escort whose friend Ilona has disappeared. She agrees to help Dagnija but has no idea that in her search for Ilona she will confront a world of shady characters and dirty deeds. She meets with a sleazy strip club owner aptly named “Porno” Valdi, who knows more about Ilona’s disappearance than he lets on. (Stella refers fondly to him as “a miserable stinking wankstain”). A dying man, Hákon Hákonarson, engages Stella to fulfill his last wish: find his biological daughter and deliver a mysterious box. The daughter of one of Iceland’s most popular politicians is deliberately run over by a car during a government protest and seeks Stella’s help. The injured girl, Freyja Dögg, wants to sue the driver, senior Central Bank official Bjarni Bjarnason.

To coin a cliché, the plot thickens! The body of Benedikt Björgúlfsson, a well-known financier, is found brutally beaten in a church that was to have hosted the christening of Stella’s niece. Another client arrested for a series of break-ins is found with evidence tying him to Björgúlfsson’s murder. An accused drug runner from Lithuania asks Stella to represent him but his police interpreter is not who she seems, and Stella cannot trust her translation. A couple of detectives, whose shady behavior arouses Stella’s suspicions, try to thwart her investigations. She finds out that the woman who runs Ilona’s escort service is an old flame of hers; is she involved in Ilona’s disappearance?

It all seems overwhelming but Stella pushes her way through with a brash fearless attitude and unstoppable perseverence. Her cynicism is ever-present; when a character exclaims “Thank God!” when hearing good news, Stella thinks “I don’t bother mentioning to her that there’s no sign that mythical old geezer has ever shown his face at Efstakot.”

As her investigation continues, the plot threads begin to intertwine. As Stella tells her business partner, “I hadn’t figured out the connection…But now I see the same thing wherever I look.” Corruption. Financial crimes. Drug smuggling. Robbery. Murder. All part of a gripping mystery that kept me guessing until the very end. We may never know who the author Stella Blómkvist is, but Blómkvist the lawyer is someone whose adventures I want to read more about.

Please buy or order “Murder at the Residence” from your local independent bookstore or!

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Deadly Autumn Harvest by Tony Mott

Deadly Autumn Harvest by Tony Mott

“She had learnt to befriend dead bodies a long time ago, but she still had a difficult relationship with the cold. Probably because she was still alive.” Meet Gigi, (do NOT call her Regina) Tony Mott’s witty, fearless and astute pathologist consultant to Brașov’s new Police Unit for Behavioural Analysis. Gigi “…generally didn’t like crowds, the noise, the incessant chatter. In her childhood, she’d had a recurring dream – that everyone had turned to stone and she was the only one awake and alive.”

Author Tony Mott, winner of the 2022 Romanian Mystery & Thriller Award.

While working on her doctorate, she’s called in to assist in the investigation of the murder of actress Andrada Vasiliu. Gigi’s investigative instincts are aroused when she sees the body, unclothed and arranged in an unusual position.

Gigi has a playful, comfortable relationship with most of her colleagues and their back-and-forth moves the plot along at a good clip. This is a contrast to her complicated relationship with Vlad Tomescu, a Police Chief and Gigi’s former (married) lover. He’s assigned to the team when other murders appear to be connected to Andrada’s. “The two years she had been with Vlad had taken her to the cliff edge, and it could all have ended far worse than it did.”

When a second body is found at a hairdresser’s salon, Gigi’s intuition is that the murders are connected. This meets with skepticism from everyone, especially since initially, she can’t put her finger on what that connection is.

Chapters alternate between Gigi’s story and descriptions of the murders as they happen, but this does not allow the reader to solve the mystery before her. To make things even more challenging, not all the key events are murders. A flood at a thoroughbred stable and an explosion at an art gallery give Gigi the keys that start to unlock that elusive connection.

Gigi is extremely focused on solving these cases even though she is distracted by Vlad’s presence on the investigative team, and a possible new romance. I don’t want to spoil the excitement of what Gigi discovers about the links between the crimes, but it’s both unusual and compelling. Unusual enough that she has to struggle to overcome the strong doubts her team has regarding her “far-fetched” theory about the perpetrator’s motives.“‘For heaven’s sake, Gigi, haven’t you got anything better to do than tell us a story about the creation of the world or what?’ Matei interrupted her.

In “Deadly Autumn Harvest”, Romanian author Tony Mott has created an unusual mix of a serial killer mystery and the world of myths and legends. I loved the combination; my mother introduced me to the tales of Norse, Greek and Roman mythology when I was very young and they’ve never lost their fascination. Mott has woven these two aspects into a great read. I’m grateful to Corylus Books for publishing this book, the first novel in the Gigi Alexa series to be translated into English. I look forward to the future English editions of Mott’s books, and want to credit Marina Sofia for a translation that preserves the subtlety and wit of the original text. Any mystery fan will want to catch up with Gigi and her future cases!

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The Forcing by Paul E Hardisty

The Forcing by Paul E Hardisty

“The Forcing” is my first review for Orenda Books; thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for the opportunity. I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction such as “The Stand” and “Swan Song” so I was especially excited for the chance to review this book.

The author, Canadian Paul Hardisty, has spent 25 years working as an environmental scientist and freelance journalist. One of the novels in his Claymore Straker series, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and a Telegraph Book of the Year.

Paul Hardisty

“I can see it now, and it still makes me shiver.”

This quote begins a chapter called “The Destruction of Order” and I immediately understood the narrator’s fears. The apocalyptic novels I’ve read typically have a supernatural element to them. “The Forcing” is chilling because of its plausibility. If today’s events were taken to their extreme in the future, the world created in this book could come to pass. The author deftly uses his environmental science background to give the book its realistic tone. And it made me shiver as well.

The precipitating events of the novel are catastrophic climate change and global warfare, resulting in a government takover by young people and a policy of relocating Canadian citizens over a cutoff age to the now abandoned southern deserts of the U.S. We follow the lives of the narrator, “Teach”, his estranged wife May, Argent, an arrogant billionaire with cryptic plans, and the other “Responsibles” (as they are called by the new leaders). The more Teach learns about his new home and what is taking place there, the more frightened he becomes. Food and water are strictly rationed, assigned jobs are arduous and dangerous, and movement is restricted. Teach soon finds out how transgressors are punished.

The book moves between Teach in his present life and the record of what happened to him and the other Responsibles after re-location. It’s suspenseful, infuriating, frightening and deeply sad. Teach and the others do escape the town they’re in, only to face numerous obstacles and implacable enemies on their way to…what exactly? The only person who seems to have a plan and a destination is Argent, and he is not sharing. No one really knows the state of rest of the world, since all forms of news and other communications have long ceased. Teach must use his instincts and knowledge in order to survive in a world that is alien to him and everyone with him. As Teach writes later:

“For it is no exaggeration to say that I have crawled to the very edge of the
abyss and gazed down into the depths of Hell. I do not offer this lightly. I am
a scientist, a teacher.”

I found The Forcing to be quite a moving book; Teach tries not to lose his humanity and compassion but there are times when saving lives depend on him becoming ruthless and cruel. Is there any hope for the future in The Forcing? Maybe. A little.

“I am here, now. Somehow, I have survived the transit of time and distance and
the loss of the old world. Amazement is too subtle a word.”

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Deceit by Jónína Leósdóttir

Deceit by Jónína Leósdóttir

I was pulled into Icelandic mystery “Deceit” the minute I saw the cover, which I discovered upon reading how cleverly it reflected the story.

“Deceit” by Jónína Leósdóttir is published by Corylus Books. She’s an Icelandic author and playwright who has written twenty books, fiction and non-fiction, many short stories and plays for radio and television. In 2016 Jónína ‘turned to crime’ with a five-book series about amateur sleuth Edda. “Deceit” was published in English in autumn 2022 and is translated into English by Sylvia Bates and Quentin Bates, a wonderful mystery author in his own right.

Jónína Leósdóttir

“Deceit’s” themes are the complexity and consequences of family dynamics. The protagonists are Reyjavik detective Soffia and Adam, her British-born psychologist ex-husband. He’s got a dark secret and an almost crippling fear of COVID. Soffia has a unique ability to get under Adam’s skin because of how well she knows him but needs his skills to help her solve the mystery. Since the story takes place during the pandemic, the investigative process is almost unbearable for Adam.

Adam ended the call without a word. Soffía hadn’t called to
ask if she could come, but to announce that she was coming.
There were good reasons why his parents referred to their
former daughter-in-law as the Bulldozer. This elaborately
courteous middle-class English couple had never taken to the
confident, straight-talking woman who had captivated their
only son.

Introduced as victims of malicious attacks, five siblings, (children of the same father but three different mothers), hold the keys to the mystery in their current relationships and unhappy childhoods . The story begins with Arngunnur Andersen, owner of a small health foods store in which Adam shops. Broken sewing needles have been found in fruit sold at the store. Gradually, similar malicious acts are committed and the links between the victims are revealed. Who holds a grudge against these five siblings and half-siblings strong enough to want to hurt them? Soffia wants evidence; Adam wants to understand why this family has been singled out in his belief that in the answer lies the identity of the perpetrator. I love this interchange between Adam and Soffia as they get to know the family better:

“If you were stuck in a lift with one of these siblings,” Soffía made quote marks with her fingers,
“who would you prefer to be stuck with?” “For how long?” Adam asked in return.
She popped some chocolate-covered liquorice in her mouth and thought about it.
“Two hours. And there’s no light in the elevator.”
“Probably Emil. He could tell me about Greece. Or maybe Arngunnur, I’m sure there’s a lot she could say.”
“Not Sesselja and her legs-up-to-here?”

Simultaneously, Adam becomes involved with another family; a father who needs his counsel on how to help his adopted daughter. She has just been diagnosed with a fatal disease and is bitterly determined to find and punish her biological father, who she holds responsible for her diagnosis. Leósdóttir skillfully weaves the two threads of these stories together while revealing the secrets that Adam and the family have long concealed.

Soffia is not a very likeable character, but we are seeing her through Adam’s eyes. She’s rude, abrupt and teases him mercilessly about his COVID fears. However, they both care deeply about their daughter, and as we learn more about Adam we begin to understand the dynamics of their relationship and the reason for their divorce.

This famous quote from the opening of “Anna Karenina” has become a cliché, but it aptly encapsulates the themes of this new mystery: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The solution to the mystery lies in the roots of both families and is both a satisfying and tragic ending. Another great addition to the Nordic mystery genre!

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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,

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The Commandments by Óskar Guðmundsson

The Commandments by Óskar Guðmundsson

The Commandments by Óskar Guðmundsson
Translated by Quentin Bates | Published by Corylus Books


I’ve been a Nordic Noir fan since the early 1990s, when I read “Smilla’s Sense of Snow”, by Peter Høeg, and the Martin Beck mystery series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. However, it wasn’t until the success of the Lisbeth Salander “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy by Stieg Larsson (2005) that mysteries from Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland began to be widely translated and published in the US. What draws me to the genre? I think it’s for the same reason I have such an unquenchable passion for polar history and exploration: Harsh surroundings and the knowledge that environment is as important as plot. Spare, beautiful prose. Words like forbidding, suspenseful, threatening, cold, bleak. Most of all, the character development that continues from book to book, as many of them are series.

So, every time I come across a new Nordic mystery I know I’ll be reading it. When Ewa Sherman reached out to ask if I would like to review Óskar Guðmundsson’s “The Commandments” I jumped at the chance and I was not disappointed; it is a welcome addition to the genre. Many of these books feature strong, intelligent and capable women and the protagonist Salka Steinsdóttir is no exception.

Author Óskar Guðmundsson

The book begins with a chapter set in 1995, and offers disturbing hints of what’s to come:

Once they had made plain their heathen tendencies, Helgi
had asked the pair of them to stay behind after the lesson.
That was when it had all started.
First sweets. Then money. Finally, there had been booze.
Everything changed.

The next chapter resumes in 2014. Salka Steinsdóttir is a former police officer who we meet fly fishing in the Lax River in northern Iceland. Her life is complicated; she is separated from her husband and her father is very ill. While on the river she meets an intriguing stranger who plays a part in what’s to come.

The story unfolds slowly but inexorably. Horrible abuse has taken place but who were the perpetrators and why have they gone unpunished for so long? When a body is found in a local church, the police reach out to Steinsdóttir for assistance. She is reluctant to be drawn back into her former world until they tell her that the man who was murdered was part of one of her investigations four years earlier.

That’s right. We investigated accusations against him
and other priests. We were never able to reach a conclusion.
That’s the worst of dealing with these cases. You have all the
victims’ narratives and you can put your finger on what’s
right and just. At the same time, you have the feeling that it’ll
all come to nothing, as happened with this case. The whole
thing was dismissed.’

And thus, Steinsdóttir finds herself in the throes of an intensely emotional and challenging case.

Guðmundsson writes about the horrific abuse in a sensitive and empathetic way. He thoughtfully creates the lives and of the victims and the damage they suffered as children that carried into their adult lives. Steinsdóttir has to confront reluctant witnesses, outright obstruction, and the difficulty of probing at memories the people she talks to would prefer to forget. I loved her character; here is a description of her during questioning of a witness:

During such interrogations, Salka liked to step back in
time, trying to work out how life had been for these people
before everything collapsed around them. At some point
this young woman had been the apple of her parents’ eye.
Somewhere behind the taut features hid a pleasant woman
with happy eyes. But now they were completely blank.

With each witness, each piece of evidence, and the gradual uncovering of the past, Steinsdóttir grows closer to a solution of the case…but not necessarily a resolution. Guðmundsson’s spare, unaffected prose is one of the main reasons I loved this book, and why Icelandic mysteries in particular call to me so strongly. The subject matter of the book is handled with a masterly touch and a deep understanding of how strongly evil deeds live long after they are committed. As with all great mystery books, the ending is both unexpected and yet, inevitable.

I highly recommend this book not just for Nordic mystery fans, but anyone who loves mysteries and great writing. I can’t wait to read more of Guðmundsson; more about him can be found at his website.

Please buy/order this book at your local independent bookstore! To find yours, visit Indiebound in the US or Indie Bookshops in the UK/Ireland.

The Commandments was first published in English in the United Kingdom in 2021 by Corylus Books Ltd, and was originally published in Icelandic as Boðorðin in 2019 by Bjartur.
Copyright © Óskar Guðmundsson, 2019
Translation copyright © Quentin Bates, 2021

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What Are You in the Mood For? Part Two

What Are You in the Mood For? Part Two

Like so many people, I’ve read a lot of books during the pandemic. Since I only post about books I liked/loved/lost it over, I decided to create a post that makes recommendations to match your current mood with the proper book. As always, please buy/order your books from an independent bookstore! Check for yours at:

If you want to read…

……about the often dangerous and always fascinating history of fashion, and the lengths people will go to in order to look beautiful.

Fashion Victims : The Dangers of Dress Past and Present—Alison Matthews David:

A philosophical novel that follows the paths of three men, in three different periods of history, (the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Black Death, and the Second World War) linked by the same book. Unlike anything I’ve read before.

The Dream of Scipio—Iain Pears (also An Instance of the Fingerpost):

…Gripping medical history; the real story behind the discovery and use of penicillin.

The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat—Eric Lax:

…two startling and somewhat interconnected novels by a master storyteller. Station Eleven is a novel that miraculously reads like equal parts page-turner and poem. The Glass Hotel is a ghost story that’s also about white collar crime and container shipping. I recommend reading in order.

Station 11/The Glass Hotel—Emily St. John Mandel:

...a great American novel about a real reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children. A Whitehead classic and Pulitzer Prize winner.

The Nickel Boys—Colson Whitehead

…Poetic fantasy fiction with stunning visual imagery and complex characters. If you liked The Night Circus…

The Starless Sea—Erin Morgenstern

…a brutal, bitter, comical, brilliant look at England through a broken mirror; NOT for the faint of heart.

Endland—Tim Etchells

…Nordic Noir from a Swedish author, with a twist that her protagonist is not a policeman, but a tax lawyer (a profession the author shares). Part of a series, click here to see them in order.

The Blood Spilt—Âsa Larsson

Thus endeth Part Two of the “What are You in the Mood For? posts. Hope you enjoyed, and found some books to match your mood!

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What Are You in the Mood For? Part One

What Are You in the Mood For? Part One

Like so many people, I’ve read a lot of books during the pandemic. Since I only post about books I liked/loved/lost it over, I decided to create a post that makes recommendations to match your current mood with the proper book.

As always, please buy/order your books from an independent bookstore! Check for yours at:

Indie Bookshops UK
Indie Bookshops Europe
Indie Bookshops Australia (audiobooks)

If you want to read…

…an insighful, poignant “autobiographical” novel about the real-life Alva Vanderbilt; prominent multi-millionaire American socialite and a major figure in the American women’s suffrage movement.

A Well Behaved Woman—Therese Anne Fowler

Nordic noir at its finest (part of a series that I recommend reading in order as the characters and plots intertwine). This is the most recent book in the series.

Lazarus—Lars Kepler:

…a gripping four book series ostensibly about two Neapolitan girls who grow up together. The astonishing writing transcends the plot to cover love, violence, loyalty, marriage, parenthood, rebellion, politics, family… If I sound like I’m waxing lyrical, I am.

My Brilliant Friend Quartet—Elena Ferrante:

…a book of simple, beautiful prose (part of a series and with characters from other Backman books) that revolves around hockey but is really a rich, insightful study of the people who live in this small town.

Us Against You—Frederik Backman

...Marconi! A notorious murderer! The invention of the telegraph! Crime investigation innovations! Need I say more-it’s Erik Larson.

Thunderstruck—Erik Larson

…a work of historical fiction so gripping that it’s un-putdownable. A group of women on a very dangerous Arctic journey; fits right into that sweet spot of mystery, thriller and intense character study.

The Arctic Fury—Greer MacAllister

…one of Kate Atkinson’s clever Jackson Brodie mysteries; one should always be in the mood for these fantastic books!

Started Early, Took My Dog—Kate Atkinson

…Nordic noir from Iceland; Books 1 and 2 of the fantastic Forbidden Iceland series.

The Creak on the Stairs/Girls Who Lie—Eva Björg Ægisdottir

…brilliant historical fiction about Shakepeare’s son; so little is known about the lives of the father or the son that O’Farrell’s imagination really shines through.

Hamnet-Maggie O’Farrell

…a book that bears some similarities to The Orchid Thief, but with a very different focus and background; natural history and a daring heist.

The Feather Thief-Kirk Wallace Johnson

…a brutally honest and well-written account about running the Iditarod and the musher life in general. On Twitter, if you follow #mushertwitter or #uglydogs, this is the book for you!

Winterdance-Gary Paulsen

…a quintessential Amisosity, Amisless, Amisesque novel/bio/essay/WTF kind of a book.

Inside Story—Martin Amis

Thus endeth Part One of the “What are You in the Mood For? posts. Part Two will cover fantasy, fashion and more…

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