Violent crime in Iceland is an extremely rare thing, so you can imagine the challenge this poses for crime fiction writers wanting to use the country as a setting for their work. Fortunately, plenty of talented Icelanders have managed to navigate this difficulty in creative and satisfying ways. In Snare, Lilja Sigurðardóttir launches the Reykjavik Noir trilogy – the story of a young mother trapped in the world of criminal enterprise who must use her own wits in order to break free.
For such a slim volume, Lilja Sigurðardóttir is able to pack in both exciting plots developments and incisive character development. Sonja is the woman who is forced into smuggling drugs into Iceland for a vicious kingpin. Since most readers are probably unfamiliar with the mechanics of sneaking drugs through customs, Sigurðardóttir wisely spends some time at the beginning of the novel detailing one of Sonja’s jobs in more detail. This alerts the reader not only to the risk involved, but also highlights all the various stages when something can go wrong. Since the novel will feature several more of these smuggling assignments, this knowledge proves vitally important.
Making Sonja the heroine of this novel was a risky move given that she is in fact committing these criminal acts. Lilja Sigurðardóttir counters this by giving Sonja a motivation that most readers will be able to relate to. Sonja is trying to keep her son, Tómas, safe while also fulfilling her “obligations” to the masterminds behind this smuggling ring. The more readers learn about Sonja’s plight, the more empathetic they will become. Sonja’s husband has primary custody of Tómas, so the scenes depicting the strain this puts on Sonja are heartbreaking, but the characterization of the young boy never fails to bring a smile to the readers face (and to Sonja’s for that matter.)
Another point of view in the novel comes from Agla, Sonja’s female lover. In a way that American writers find difficult to pull of, Sonja’s sexuality in this novel is presented as a non-issue, it just is. However, Agla is constantly struggling with the lesbian label that she feels society is trying to force upon her. Through both humor and pathos, Sigurðardóttir masterfully documents that unique challenges of interesting relationship. This is further complicated by the fact that Agla and Sonja’s husband once worked together and in the aftershocks of the financial collapse of Iceland, they are both under investigation for financial impropriety. Let’s just say, this is not a group ready to have Sunday dinners together.
The final piece of this puzzle is Bragi, the customs agent who begins to suspect there is something more going on. As readers watch him get ever closer to discovering Sonja’s secrets, it is hard not to begin to root for him even as one knows what such exposure would mean for Sonja. Giving Bragi a wife who is suffering from Alzheimer’s was another smart decision and the scenes between these two are some of the most touching in Snare.
With 125 chapters in under 250 pages, the forward momentum in Snare is unrelenting. Sigurðardóttir keeps the tension high and rewards the reader with a satisfying denouement. Since this is the first of a trilogy, there are plenty of threads left unresolved, but readers can come away from Snare feeling like they have a complete story. However, I imagine most will be so hooked that they will be unable to resist returning to see how Sonja confronts the next challenges in the follow-ups – Trap and Cage.
Credit must also be given to translator Quentin Bates. He is one of the best translators in the business and once again he proves that with Snare. While we are on the subject of best, this is another stunning cover design from Orenda Books. Take a trip to Iceland with Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Snare, but just be sure to check your luggage at the terminal.
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.