Source: Review copy
Publication: 22 July 2021 from Orenda Books
My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review purposes
When a depressed, alcoholic single mother disappears, everything suggests suicide, but when her body is found, Icelandic Detective Elma and her team are thrust into a perplexing, chilling investigation.
Oh my goodness, Eva Ægisdóttir has done it again. After her chilling, award winning thriller, The Creak on the Stairs, she has brought back Detective Elma for a second case and this time Elma and her colleagues are faced with a complex problem.
Girls Who Lie is told in two timelines; the current police investigation and a parallel narrative told through an unnamed female narrator. A woman’s body has been found in a crevasse in the Grábrók lava fields. It has been there for some months but the police are able to determine that it is the body of missing Akranes woman, Marianna and that Marianna has been murdered. Marianna was a single mother of truculent teenager, 15 year old Hekla.
Marianna’s track record as a parent had not been sterling. As a troubled young single mother she had neglected Hekla, resulting in Hekla first being placed into care by Child Protection Services. Then she was placed into a foster family who had always wanted a child. They loved Hekla, treating her as if she were their own daughter. Better off than Marianna, this middle aged couple were able to give her the material comforts that Marianna’s circumstances lacked the ability to match.
Delving into Marianna’s missing person’s case, Elma realises that that investigation had been less than thorough; many assumptions having been made based on Marianna’s somewhat erratic lifestyle, the biggest of which is that she either ran away or more likely, committed suicide. As she investigates she is led deeper into family secrets, the lies that are told and the devastating consequences for all concerned.
It’s fascinating to consider this aspect of the police investigation. Because of the lazy assumptions made about Marianna, the police had paid scant attention to the job they should have been doing. Hekla has been let down by them and let down too by Child Protection services. The people that should be the grown-ups are self-obsessed and narrow minded. On the face of it their concern is for the child, but actually they only care about their own positions. Everyone is lying and the gatekeepers are no better. Ægisdóttir is clear in her condemnation and no-one escapes unscathed.
At the same time we are delighted to be let into a little more of Elma’s personal life. We hear about her relationship with her mother and sister; a new relationship that she is unsure about and her working partnership with Sævar which is now bedded in and going well. They are at ease with each other and their cheerful banter shows that with every exchange. This is a happier Elma, albeit still tinged with grief and sadness and she seems much more at ease with her life.
The police investigation does not go well. Every time they think they are getting somewhere, they are stymied. Someone is not telling them the truth. Is it Hekla, the reluctant daughter, or perhaps the protective and somewhat smothering foster mother who always knew that Hekla would have been better off being adopted by them rather than going back to her poor excuse of a mother?
Girls Who Lie switches between the past and the present investigation, showing us how each of the characters came to be who they are today and gradually allowing the reader to build a picture of the character’s perspective and their view of what happened. Sitting alongside Elma’s investigation, the reader has a twin track into this mystery and that helps build an understanding while ensuring that the mystery remains. With the building of this layered picture comes a slow, burning tension that is palpable. All the time we are left wondering who did this? And if x did it, what was their motive? There’s a clever thing that Ægisdóttir does which is to lead us to make assumptions about characters which are simply not true – that trail of breadcrumbs does not at all go where you thought it was leading and that’s brilliant!
Verdict: Eva Ægisdóttir builds tension through both her brilliant characterisation and her atmospheric settings. She creates a chilling, gloomy sense of doom as we visit the lava fields and the long dark winters set in – all this bolstered by a small town sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere where gossip and the taunting of children can have the cruellest impact. But the real killer in this book is the way in which she diverts us all from the truth because we too are guilty of making the lazy assumptions that have had such terrible repercussions for Marianna.
Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva moved to Trondheim, Norway to study my 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 book went on to win the Blackbird Award and became an Icelandic bestseller. The Creak on The Stairs, her debut novel was awarded The John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger by the CWA. Eva now lives with her husband and three children in Reykjavík, staying at home with her youngest until she begins Kindergarten.