It is impossible to determine the reason – perhaps it is the isolation, or the unique environment, or maybe it is a credit to the educational systems – but whatever the cause, there is little doubt that the Icelandic people are first-class storytellers and genre readers are very lucky that the tradition of crime writing from the nation is flourishing. The latest superstar on the landscape is Eva Björg Ægisdóttir, at least in terms of those books that have been translated into English. Ægisdóttir’s debut novel, The Creak on the Stairs, launches a series know as Forbidden Iceland, and it is clearly the work of an author who has spent years honing her craft, now ready to make her mark on Iceland’s storied legacy of excellent crime fiction.
The Creak on the Stairs introduces readers to Elma, a woman suffering through the heart-breaking end of a long-term relationship. In the hopes of speeding her recovery, Elma leaves Reykjavik and returns to her hometown of Akranes, Iceland, joining the local police force as their Chief Investigating Officer. While Akranes is located in West Iceland, geographically not that fair from the nation’s capital, it remains a relatively isolated community; so when the body of a woman is located near a historic lighthouse, Elma becomes enmeshed in the investigation, opening wounds that stretch back to her own childhood in the location.
Elma is a character readers will immediately bond with. It is difficult to explain why, because she is a bit prickly and certainly prefers to keep her distance, but the hurt she feels is relatable and as readers watch her dogged investigation of this woman’s death, the connection only becomes stronger. As a series character, she has so many levels yet to be discovered. This is not to diminish the other players on the scene, as Ægisdóttir does an incredible job of making each one unique and fascinating in their own way. Lovers of series crime fiction understand how important the recurring characters are to the enjoyment of future books, and this novel delivers.
Now, it is important to note, The Creak on the Stairs is a dark book dealing with subject matter that will most definitely distress readers. Literary scholars will marvel at how this emotional gloom is echoed in the perpetual darkness of Icelandic winter. Eva Björg Ægisdóttir creates an overwhelming feeling of melancholia and dread as the chapters pass by. Part of this is structural, as constant flashbacks gives readers insight into the past that Elma and the other detectives do not yet possess. In this way, readers stay just slightly ahead of the investigating team and it is impossible not to anticipate the ugly truth. That said, Ægisdóttir approaches these touchy subjects with complete compassion and none of the tabloid titillation or sensationalism that less-skilled authors might accidentally introduce.
The psychological basis for the various crimes – both past and present – that permeate The Creak on the Stairs ring true and accurate and force readers to question what they would do in similar circumstances. This is the type of plot that only works in a small, isolated community where reputation and longevity outweigh right and wrong. In these environs, shared secrets thrive, trust is a scarce commodity, and misinformation reigns supreme. It is at the intersection of these three concepts that Eva Björg Ægisdóttir places her tale, packing an emotional wallop that reverberates long after the final page is turned. Speaking of, only after the investigation is complete, will readers realize how this author has planted many seeds ready to grow and complicate future novels in the Forbidden Iceland series. No doubt, anyone who reads The Creak on the Stairs will return to Akranes to see what develops next.
(Kudos also must go to Victoria Cribb who continues to produce beautiful translations of Iceland’s crime fiction output.)
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.