Translated by Sylvia and Quentin Bates
I’m delighted to be today’s stop on the blogtour for yet another new to me Icelandic author. Deceit is the first of Jónína Leósdóttir’s books to be translated into English, brought to us by Corylus Books and translated by veteran Icelandic translator Quentin Bates with Sylvia Bates.
Deceit is also her first book to feature a new investigative pairing, the Reykjavik detective Soffia, and her psychologist ex-husband Adam; neither are ever given a surname. They make such an interesting contrast. Adam is an Englishman, reserved and perfectionist. Icelander Soffia is his opposite, abrupt and matter-of-fact in a food is fuel sort of way, (she reminded me a little of The Bridge’s Saga minus the trauma). As the story teases out, we’ll read between the lines what drove them apart, and it wasn’t their grown-up daughter Margrét. However, we can sense that there is still strong feeling between them, and that they are able to have a good working relationship.
Deceit is also the first novel I’ve read, actively set during the pandemic, and the chapters are prefaced with updates on Iceland’s Covid statistics. Boris Johnson, the UK PM at the time who ended up in Intensive Care gets a mention for Adam, who is addicted to the UK news ticker. A running theme through the novel is that Adam is quite paranoid about catching Covid, masking up, wearing gloves, sanitising things, sticking strictly to the rules and being very Brtish about it. Actually, Iceland’s rules were less draconian than the UK’s stance, and Soffia is largely ambivalent about Adam’s worries about it. The novel is largely told from Adam’s point of view, and as it begins, Soffia calls him:
“OK to drop by? There’s something I need to run past you.” Soffia sounded breathless and rush. “It’s really urgent.”
“Can’t we talk this over on the phone? I’m supposed to be in self-isolation.”
Adam left out the fact that he was also deep in a crime drama showing on Netflix.
“Self-imposed isolation,” she corrected. Soffia had never managed to break the habit of correcting his Icelandic, even though by now his command of the language was almost flawless and free of his English accent. “And, no. This is too sensitive for the phone. I’m at the station, I’ll be with you in a quarter of an hour and coffee would be great.”
This is how Soffia, who has no-one to call on at the police headquarters due to Covid, employs Adam as a consultant on a case she’s landed. Cut-off needles have been found in fruit at one of the few cafes still open for takeaways and home delivery. Luckily, none of the needles were swallowed, the cafe owner had discovered one when he bit into some fruit. Police HQ isn’t treating it terribly seriously, but Soffia is concerned, more so when Adam advises her that often copycat incidents could follow, and obviously the cafe owner doesn’t want it to get out. However, more needles will be discovered in other places and a possible family connection can be made between them. Even with that link, Soffia has little to go on to help catch the perpetrator, and that family definitely has many dark secrets of its own which will be gradually winkled out as the novel progresses.
Meanwhile, Adam takes on a new client, Björn, a troubled man who is desperate to help his adopted daughter who, having received a life-limiting diagnosis, is now her long-lost birth father. Adam tries to persuade the distraught man to get his daughter to seek help, and finds himself making an offer that could put his career in jeopardy. By this stage, the reader is already aware of Adam’s secret, and there was a jaw-dropping moment when I cottoned on. When a crime author introduces a second strand to a book, you instantly wonder whether it is a standalone or will tie into the main plot thread. Leósdóttir deals with this very cleverly and I shall say no more!
There’s a conversational style to Leósdóttir’s writing that was really refreshing. I loved the bickering between Soffia and Adam. I enjoyed Soffia’s ostensibly laid-back interviewing technique. Occasionally I thought, why didn’t she ask…?, but there is method there, in that subsequent actions and will give fuller answers perhaps.
Soffia and Adam are both fascinating and fully realised characters. It’ll be interesting to see how Leósdóttir deals with Adam’s secret in subsequent outings for the pairing as we get to know them even better.
Source: Review copy – thank you! Corylus Books, flapped paperback original, 282 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)