Reykjavík detective Soffía finds herself struggling to cope with a single-handed investigation into a spate of malicious acts taking place across the city and enlists help from an unexpected direction Her psychologist ex-husband Adam has advised the police before, but with Covid raging in the city, would prefer to stay holed up in his basement flat as he deals with challenges in both his working and private life. He grudgingly agrees to work with Soffía, as the stakes in the investigation are continually raised. Working out who bears a grudge that goes deep enough to lead to murder, they unravel complex family ties, lingering enmities and a dark past that the victims would prefer to keep secret, while Adam encounters a young woman in a race against the clock to find the father she has never seen, but for what purpose?
Jonina Leósdóttir is a new name to many of us, despite being a highly prolific writer in her native Iceland, and Deceit is her first crime novel to be translated into English, courtesy of Quentin and Sylvia Bates. This is the first book I have read, across any genre, set firmly within the boundaries of the Coronavirus pandemic, and also introduces us to the very interesting dynamic of a divorced couple working together to track down the perpetrator of a series of harmful incidents…
The dynamic between Adam, a psychologist and the very epitome of Britishness in many of his traits and behaviour, and his ex-wife Soffía, a hard-headed and focused detective, works very well on more than one level. Their differing perceptions of the investigation in hand and the potential suspects- all tied to one family- results in moments of tension and annoyance, compounded by their being ex-partners too. The grounded, serious and methodical approach of Adam is undone frequently by the more aggressive attitude and impulsive investigatory style of Soffía, which adds colour and a certain degree of humour to the plot. I think that Leósdóttir does a fine job of bringing to the reader’s attention the way that Adam has worked to become a naturalised citizen in Iceland, but cleverly refers to the very British nature of his upbringing and background, and how this still sets him at odds within his adopted homeland. Soffía is a great character, reminding me very strongly of Saga Norén in The Bridge, with her prickly attitude and moments of extreme tactlessness, and we know with Soffía that this is just part of her character generally, as evinced by the allusions to, and reveals of, her and Adam’s former marriage.
I think as this is the first Covid centred book I have read, it was interesting to see how Leósdóttir worked this into the plot, as in the early days of the pandemic, society became insular and isolated, and the mundane and work centred tasks of day-to-day life, became a minefield of navigating restrictions and keeping your distance from others. The author explores this very adroitly, homing in on her characters differing perceptions of how to keep themselves safe, or conversely exhibiting a more than lax attitude to the simple actions that help decrease the chances of infection. Ex-pat psychologist Adam is definitely a member of the former, having an almost paranoid approach to protecting himself from the disease, and when called upon to assist in this investigation,
” Adam realised now how difficult being dragged away from isolation and tranquillity had been, like a baby being pulled from the womb under caesarean section”
and maintaining his strict adherence to hygiene and social distancing. Throughout the course of the book Leósdóttir makes references to both the escalating spread of Covid in Iceland itself, and further afield to keep the reader rooted in a specific time.
Although I was not entirely convinced by the veracity of the central investigation itself, which seemed a little weak in comparison with Leósdóttir’s unquestionable gift for characterisation, it played out soundly enough with the premise for the crimes, and the revealing of the perpetrator handled well enough to keep the reader engaged. The only other small criticism that I have is that I felt the whole Adam/Jenny story line was not explored in depth, feeling a little superfluous without a more detailed overview of Adam’s feelings and motivation in this hidden aspect of his life, and maybe could have added a deeper level of understanding of his character generally.
Overall I enjoyed Deceit as an introduction to Jonina Leósdóttir and maybe a potential series featuring Adam and Soffía as I liked the dynamic between them very much. Once again, Icelandic translators extraordinaires Quentin and Sylvia Bates deliver a fluid and entertaining translation with their customary quirks in translation for the English-speaking audience. Recommended.
Jónína Leósdóttir is an Icelandic novelist, playwright, former journalist and spouse of the former Prime Minister of Iceland. She is the author of a dozen plays, eleven novels, two biographies and a collection of articles she originally wrote for a women’s magazine. Her books have been translated into several languages. Follow on Twitter @JoninaLeos
Quentin Bates dates back to the year of the Cuban missile crisis, grew up in English suburbia and escaped for a few years. The roots in Iceland run very deep and the pull of this volcanic rock remains strong. Having been a factory hand, netmaker, trawlerman, truck driver, (briefly) a teacher, he found his way into writing via a series of coincidences and has been tapping at a keyboard ever since, including writing a series of crime novels and novellas set in Iceland and translating the work of many Icelandic writers into English. Follow on Twitter @graskeggur
(With thanks to Corylus Books for the ARC)
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