It’s changes of pace that can trip you up, and in Night Shadows Eva Björg Ægisdóttir trips us up time and again. For most of the book we’re close, very close, to character after character. This one’s – as the old song goes – a bit of a threat. Time stands still on occasion as we focus right in on the moment, and see it remixed from different perspectives. Then it all speeds up, there’s a flash of action, and we’re thrown. What happens isn’t quite what we’re expecting, and if I did suspect the perpetrator, it’s because Ægisdóttir makes us suspect everyone in turn. Zooming back out again from an ending that focuses on a detail and not on the story as a whole, we realise that some terrible injustices have been done. I mean, it’s a murder enquiry and murder is never right…but this time it feels especially wasteful and the victims just so much crossfire catches. The final pages are simultaneously hopeful and chilling.
This is the third in Ægisdóttir’s Forbidden Iceland series, and she’s really getting into her stride, assisted by an assured and crisp translation by Victoria Cribb. But I’m not sure what exactly is forbidden, and in fact at times I’m not sure we even need to be in Iceland at all. This could be anywhere. Sometimes Icelandic thrillers play so tightly on the idea of the country’s remoteness but here we don’t feel like we’re cut off from the world. Akranes is the kind of small town I used to picture when reading Enid Blyton’s secret seven adventures, and it does feel as though the seven (or equivalent) might have their base in the next street. There is no otherness for this reader: the kids are interested in slang and games and their dreams of stardom or domesticity and other older characters are caught up in life’s changes big and small…and in regret.
None the less, this is a claustrophobic neighbourhood where everyone knows of everyone else. An old hurt might lead to retribution years on…or redemption. Here there are consequences, and there is a divide between the characters who are worn down by the dread of consequences for actions they can barely imagine still yet carry out, and those who believe that bluffing along is the way to live their life.
It turns out that Akranes is a town of bluffers. There are secrets kept – from spouses, from family members. Some characters are pretty good at deceiving themselves, over a period of years. All this leads to a community that simmers, waiting for a moment. To extend and spoil the analogy: things boil over because the ingredients don’t blend together as they used to. When it comes down to it, relationships run on trust, and when there’s cheating or obsession, the person on the other end has to decide whether they will choose to be oblivious to it or whether they will act. There’s a lot of muddling through in this community, until it just isn’t feasible any longer.
The result is a novel that’s a cut above the standard police procedural. What I like most about this series is that it feels as though Ægisdóttir is prepared to try new things from novel to novel, but there’s a clear moral core and in Elma we have an appealing detective lead whose creator is now ready to let fly. Instalment four already, please.
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy and to Anne Cater.