Everyone knows that Iceland is a nation that has a very low crime rate and homicides are the rarest of all, but as readers have seen through their excellent crime fiction output, that does not mean that there are not mysteries to be solved. One of the true dangers of Iceland has been missing persons – people will wander out into the harsh landscape never to be seen or heard from again. It is with the premise of a missing sister that Lilja Sigurðardóttir launches her new five-book series with Cold As Hell.
When Áróra hears from her mother that her unpredictable sister – ĺsafold – can’t be reached, she assumes Ísafold is just being difficult as usual. Even though Áróra is the younger sibling, she has always been the more responsible one, having to rescue Ísafold on far too many occasions. It is for this reason – among many – that Iceland is not Áróra’s favorite place, but a plea from her mother means she must return.
Her search for her sister begins with Björn, the drug-dealing boyfriend who has always been a source of trouble. Ísafold’s neighbors also seem oddly tight-lipped when confronted by Áróra, leading her to suspect there is more to this disappearance than she originally suspected.
Áróra has been working as a financial crime investigator, so while she has some experience with conducting deep-dive investigations, a missing persons case – especially one so personal – is a bit out of her comfort zone. When she hears that her “Uncle” Daníel, a proper police officer, is in the area, she reaches out for his help, granting access to some information that would otherwise have been difficult to obtain.
Lilja Sigurðardóttir has already proven herself a master at crafting complex female characters who reveal their many layers slowly over time with her Reykjavik Noir series (Snare, Trap, Cage), but her development of Áróra is next level. Because of her feelings of being an outsider, readers bond with Áróra quickly and as more is learned about her history she quickly becomes the glue that keeps readers invested in this twisty tale. Her unfamiliarity – or unease – with Iceland also makes Áróra the perfect traveling companion for readers new to the Nordic noir tradition.
Speaking of, Lilja Sigurðardóttir is far too skilled a writer to limit her story to one mystery. Sub-plots abound here – some of which will eventually tie together in unexpected ways – including financial improprieties in Iceland’s hotel industry and the immigration issues surrounding another resident of Ísafold’s building. The fact that Sigurðardóttir accomplishes all this with short, gripping chapters allows readers to feel comfortable in her manipulative hands.
These other plot threads allow for the creation of some truly memorable – and extremely disturbing – secondary characters. Those shall be left for the reader to discover on their own, but be prepared for icy chills to run up the spine and hot flashes to boil over while reading Cold As Hell. Lilja Sigurðardóttir wraps everything up into a completely believable resolution, leaving readers anxious to spend more time with Áróra.
(Readers will hardly know that Cold As Hell was not originally written in English, proving once again that Quentin Bates is one of the great translators of Iceland crime fiction.)
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.