I’ve stayed away from Nordic Noir over the last year because, from Henning Mankell to Jo Nesbø and hundreds of more, there seems to be no escape from its cold white death-like grip. But even in my fifties, I succumbed to peer pressure. First I reviewed Anthony Neil Smith’s Castle Danger: Woman on Ice, blurbed as “Nordic crime – American style”. Then there’s Orenda Books run by Karen Sullivan. Orenda is not only a great supporter of new writers like Steph Broadribb but also a big proponent of world crime fiction. Finally, there is the cover of Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s Snare. I do not know who designed the cover of the book, but good lord is it beautiful. Now here I am, caught in my own Nordic Noir snare.
So I bought a copy, started reading, and was immediately blown away by Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s Snare (Orenda Books). Sigurdardóttir effortlessly moves the reader from multiple perspectives throughout the book: a drug smuggler, a customs agent, and a bankster.
Set in the aftermath of the 2008 collapse and Iceland’s wonderful investigations and convictions of the bankers who caused the crash, we meet Sonja, the drug smuggler, switching bags with an unsuspecting family in the Copenhagen airport. Sonja is trapped into smuggling drugs into Iceland using an oh-so-real threat to her son’s life who lives with her ex-husband. A drug mule with no choice, Sonja dreams of getting out, but the gangsters keep her reeled in.
We also meet Bragi, a 69-year-old customs inspector, who enjoys his job but lonely as his wife is cared for in a government-run nursing home. He then discovers a bruise on his wife which he duly reports and then is brushed aside by the manager. Needing to get his wife out of there and somewhere better, Bragi begins to feel desperate.
The most interesting character in Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s Snare is Agla. In an alcoholic downward spiral, Agla is a bankster who is the subject of the government’s investigation. A few years prior, Agla hooked up with Sonja. Agla is more comfortable at stealing peoples money than she is being a lesbian. Not only is alcohol her coping mechanism for all the shit she is about to face, it is the primer that helps her knock on Sonja’s door late at night.
As Sonja pulled up outside the shabby block where she rented an apartment after her long round-about journey home, she saw Agla’s car was already there. She really had a knack for turning up at the wrong time. Sonja parked as Agla was getting out of her car and they met on the steps of the block.
‘I’ve missed you,’ Agla said, kissing her.
Sonja could smell the booze on her breath. It was no surprise. Agla never showed up unless she’d had a drink or two.
‘You drove here drunk?’ Sonja asked as they climbed the stairs to her apartment.
‘I had a drink after work, and then I started to miss you.’
‘Drinks, you mean, judging by the smell,’ Sonja said, putting her key in the lock.
Agla followed her in, shrugged off her coat and dropped it on the hall floor.
‘Come here.’ She pulled Sonja to her and her hands slipped inside Sonja’s clothes.
‘I need to sort stuff out after the trip…’ Sonja protested, but Agla interrupted.
‘Don’t talk shit,’ she ordered. ‘Kiss me.’
I greatly enjoyed Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s Snare as Lilja Sigurdardóttir deftly moved all the stories along to the book’s denouement. I felt the book wrapped up a little too neatly, but I’m willing to give it a pass for two reasons. First, Sigurdardóttir’s characters seemed as real as they were messed-up and, second, because Snare is the first book of a trilogy, so things might not be exactly “wrapped up”.
A quick shoutout to Quentin Bates, whose translation reads as though it was originally written in English.