The small community of Akranes is devastated when a young man dies in a mysterious house fire, and when Detective Elma and her colleagues from West Iceland CID discover the fire was arson, they become embroiled in an increasingly perplexing case involving multiple suspects. What’s more, the dead man’s final online search raises fears that they could be investigating not one murder, but two. A few months before the fire, a young Dutch woman takes a job as an au pair in Iceland, desperate to make a new life for herself after the death of her father. But the seemingly perfect family who employs her turns out to have problems of its own and she soon discovers she is running out of people to turn to. As the police begin to home in on the truth, Elma, already struggling to come to terms with a life-changing event, finds herself in mortal danger as it becomes clear that someone has secrets they’ll do anything to hide…
I devoured this crime novel in a day while ill in bed. I could barely look up from the book to talk to anyone, because I was so deeply embedded in the cold, bleak Icelandic landscape and the twists and turns of this fascinating story. Having read the previous novels in the Forbidden Iceland series, I was immediately at home with detective Elma and her partner Saever. The investigation starts with a fire in a neighbourhood of Akranes, a small town near Reykjavik. The neighbours hear the smoke alarm and come running to the house to check no one is home. The family are said to be away, but as the fire is put out a body is found in one of the bedrooms and turns out to be the teenage son, Marinó. Elma can’t understand why he is still on the bed, as if asleep. If the neighbours were woken by the fire why wasn’t this boy and why is his the room where the fire started? Soon they get their answers – he is full of sleeping tablets. It seems a party was held at the house that weekend, with a few of the neighbourhood’s teenagers attended. Elma needs to know what went on that night, who was there and where was Marinó when they left. The case becomes complicated when it becomes clear a young woman is missing. Lise was working as an au pair for one of the families living near the fire and was seen at the party. Lise was looking after the daughters of couple Laufey and Unnar, but had decided to leave and had packed everything before the party. She was ready to return to Holland the following morning. Laufey remembers seeing her bags packed that evening and when they were gone the next morning she assumed she’d left for an early flight. But Lise never reached Holland.
I enjoyed reading Elma’s voice in the first novel of this series so it was nice to pick up where we left off. Motherhood is a thread throughout the novel and it was almost as if Elma was learning exactly what being a mum entailed. She is close with her own family, despite sister Dagny getting on her nerves she realises the importance of having them around her and being there for her nieces. Within the teenagers who were present at the weekend party there is a young mother, who is trying everything to keep her relationship with the father going and overlooking a lot too. Laufney is the mum we follow most and she is almost coping as a single mum, with husband Unnar usually out and doing one thing that really infuriates me – referring to ‘babysitting’ his own children. Their own first child is a teenager, living in his own pad in the garage but still enjoying the comforts of home. Laufney is so proud of her son Andri who is soon moving to Sweden to play football at a professional level. Their two daughters are much younger. Klara is ten years old, quiet and slightly reserved, but very talented at drawing. In fact Elma finds her drawing so striking that she notices it pinned on the fridge. With the family in the main house, a girl is drawn up against the window, looking inside. Saever ccomments its like something from a horror film and he’s eerily prescient. It’s Anna the youngest daughter of the family who is sitting on the loo in the middle of the night and notices movement outside. A girl with long hair and a bulky coat is staring into the house. Anna knows it is Lise and shes not scared of Lise who was kind to her, but Lise is dead and dead people don’t come back. She goes to Klara for comfort and she reassures her, she knows she’s seen Lise because a few weeks ago she’d been been in the garden. In one of the scariest scenes Ive read in a while, the girl notices Klara and strides directly over to the window, peering in with both hands resting on the glass. I was sorry that I just happened to be reading that scene at three a.m.
The crime itself and Elma’s personal life is about loyalty and how far we’d go to keep those we love safe and for mothers that’s such a strong instinct. Elma finds these deep instincts at the forefront of her mind throughout, both personally and professionally. One of the biggest question marks I had is over Laufey and Unnar’s marriage. He is very easy to dislike thanks to his habits of sleeping with other women, even those that should be totally off limits. Yet I found myself more horrified by some of the things he did and said around his wife and children. Klara seemed to be on a diet and I was sure this was a result of Unnar’s comments to Anna about Laufey’s weight and how she didn’t want to become fat like Mum. He also makes it clear that he finds her too serious and no fun anymore. These little chips at someone’s confidence are abusive and I didn’t like that the same attitudes were being taught to the girls. I was becoming more and more uncomfortable about him and felt he could be the murderer, then kept looking at the younger generation and kids like Isak who is disrespectful to his girlfriend. It showed how these attitudes are still cross-generational. Could the murderer be one of these youngsters? CCTV showing a slight figure in a down coat near Marinó’s home led me down that path.
I loved how the book addressed Elma’s relationships and how she investigates. Even knowing she has a partner who will back her to the hilt, doesn’t stop her running away with a lead every now and then. As soon as she’s had a hunch, she has to act on it, and that doesn’t usually involve telling someone where she’s going or waiting for back up. This can lead her into danger, something that’s terrifying for those who love her and needs to change. Especially now that life is going to be significantly different. I’m already looking forward to the next chapter for this intelligent and perceptive detective.
Meet the Author
Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva moved to Trondheim, Norway to study her MSc in Globalisation when she was 25. After moving back home having completed her MSc, she knew it was time to start working on her novel. Eva has wanted to write books since she was 15 years old, having won a short story contest in Iceland. Eva worked as a stewardess to make ends meet while she wrote her first novel, The Creak on the Stairs. The book went on to win the CWA Debut Dagger, the Blackbird Award, was shortlisted (twice) for the Capital Crime Readers’ Awards, and became a number one bestseller in Iceland. The critically acclaimed Girls Who Lie (book two in the Forbidden Iceland series) soon followed, with Night Shadows (book three) following suit in July 2022. Eva lives with her husband and three children in Reykjavík.