Translated by Quentin Bates
The identity of Stella Blómkvist is a secret – she/he/they are the Icelandic equivalent of Elena Ferrante – and has been publishing crime novels in Iceland since 1997 featuring the maverick lawyer Stella Blómkvist in a long-running series of Icelandic bestsellers. Two seasons of TV adaptations have appeared in Iceland too.
Murder at the Residence, from 2012, is the first of the books to be translated into English by prolific Icelandic translator and author Quentin Bates, for indie crime specialists Corylus Books, and I’m delighted to be today’s stop on the blog tour.
The novel begins on New Year’s Eve 2009, and Stella is out on the town, looking to get drunk and maybe find a hook-up. She realises that as she’s approaching forty that party nights are maybe not going to be for her much longer, but she lives in hope, sipping her ‘Tennessee nectar’, Jack Daniels. It’s when she goes to the loo that things start to happen. There she meets two young women who are being harrassed, and she plays her lawyer card. When three young cops arrive, she has to play it again. Unbeknownst to her, she has just met five of the key figures in this story.
The two young women had been effectively trafficked from Lithuania to be
models, prostitutes, and later one disappears. The three ‘blackbirds’ as she calls the cops in their dark uniforms will also have different roles to play in the ensuing investigations. That same night, a infamous businessman is murdered, beaten to death after a reception at the President’s residence.
An anonymous tip-off leads the police to the bedroom of Sverrir who is dead to the world, but has stolen candlesticks under his bed, one of which bludgeoned the businessman to his death. It’s an open and shut case.
But not for Stella, who takes him on as a client. She has other cases too, one being the missing young woman, another is to find a daughter given up for adoption when her registered parents for the dying man who claims he was the father as his last wishes.
But once shes starts digging, it all becomes rather complicated political, and ultimately and fascinatingly rather interconnected, and at every stage Stella has to fight against various ‘blackbirds’ at every stage, and whoever is pulling their strings.
Stella is such a fun character. I was surprised to find that she has a two-year-old daughter, whom she adores. She’s totally unconventional, unfraid, but a total upholder of peoples’ rights, she will always support the underdog. I liked her a lot.
At just 266 pages long, there is a lot to this novel and it’s full of atmosphere, exposing the underbelly, at all levels, of an Iceland we don’t get to usually see. It’s quite intense with plenty to think about as you read, and made me instantly long for more. So, Quentin, you’d better get your skates on and translate some more! This crime novel is bound to create a whole host of Stella Blómkvist fans. I’m now one of them…
Source: Review copy – thank you. Corylus Books paperback original, 266 pages.
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