Source: Review copy
Publication: 13 October 2022 from Orenda Books
My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review
When entrepreneur Flosi arrives home for dinner one night, he discovers that his house has been ransacked, and his wife Gudrun missing. A letter on the kitchen table confirms that she has been kidnapped. If Flosi doesn’t agree to pay an enormous ransom, Gudrun will be killed.
Forbidden from contacting the police, he gets in touch with Áróra, who specialises in finding hidden assets, and she, alongside her detective friend Daniel, try to get to the bottom of the case without anyone catching on.
Meanwhile, Áróra and Daniel continue the puzzling, devastating search for Áróra’s sister Ísafold, who disappeared without trace. As fog descends, in a cold and rainy Icelandic autumn, the investigation becomes increasingly dangerous, and confusing.
This is a series that is rapidly getting in to its stride. Easily read as a stand-alone, Red as Blood is the second in the Áróra Investigates series, on the heels of Cold as Hell. The more I learn of Áróra, the more I like her. She is a muscular protagonist in all senses of the word. She knows her own mind, works out daily, has no qualms about confronting danger but equally does not take stupid risks and above all, she is an intelligent, forensic investigator who knows just how to follow the money trail in any investigation.
And yet for all the doggedness and ability to weigh up all the evidence, she is an investigator with a strong emotional core and it is nice to see her wavering slightly as she recognises the impact that the Police Detective Daniel has on her.
Áróra is still searching for her missing sister, Ísafold, but when she is asked to help handle the case of Gudrun, a missing Icelandic woman who disappeared from her home while making dinner she is happy to earn some money to help her continue her search.
Written in fairly short chapters the narrative pace is good as Áróra brings the police into the case, ensuring that the kidnappers are not aware of any police involvement through various subterfuges. To do this she has to enlist Daniel’s help. There is nothing obviously remarkable about the missing woman and the assumption is that she has been taken because her husband, Flosi, is a wealthy man with sufficient funds at his disposal to pay a hefty ransom. When Gudrun disappeared, a letter left on the kitchen table says that if Flosi doesn’t pay, Gudrun will be killed.
As Áróra investigates, a lot is uncovered about the life of this family and it seems as if this investigation is going to go along traditional lines. But then there is a gear change and the case takes on new life and a new direction, increasing the danger quotient and ramping up the tension as it becomes clear that more is afoot than was originally suspected.
This is a case in which the Police investigation plays as large a role as Arora’s own enquiries and she and Daniel must work hand in hand. It was good to meet more of Daniel’s colleagues in the police too and I especially enjoyed the new character, Helena whose personal life is as complex as Áróra’s. This type of joint working makes the case so much more interesting than just the lone detective narrative, though the search for Ísafold still leaves her working a lonely trail and increasingly sure that it is a body she is looking for.
Plotting is tight, the pace is strong and my interest was never less than focussed intently on how this compelling tale would pan out. Lilja Sigurðardóttir writes stories with strong contemporary relevance and her crimes are the kind that takes a contemporary sleuth with strong analytical skills to unravel. That makes her protagonist both fascinating and incredibly relevant and Áróra’s instincts are both intuitive and trustworthy, leading her into a dogged pursuit of the truth. In a cold and damp autumnal Iceland, the weather seeps into every corner of this investigation, though the shivers come more from the nature of the heinous crimes committed.
Verdict: A brilliantly told, suspenseful murder mystery with superb and engaging characters. Atmospheric with a strong sense of place and a sharp, contemporary edge this is excellent storytelling that will leave you excited and full of anticipatory desire for the next in the series.
Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written five crime novels, including Snare, Trap and Cage, making up the Reykjavik Noir trilogy, and her standalone thriller Betrayal, all of which have hit bestseller lists worldwide. Snare was longlisted for the CWA International Dagger, Cage won Best Icelandic Crime Novel of the Year and was a Guardian Book of the Year, and Betrayal was shortlisted for the prestigious Glass Key Award and won Icelandic Crime Novel of the Year. The film rights for the Reykjavik Noir trilogy have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.