Icelandic sisters Áróra and Ísafold live in different countries and aren’t on speaking terms, but when their mother loses contact with Ísafold, Áróra reluctantly returns to Iceland to find her sister. But she soon realizes that her sister isn’t avoiding her … she has disappeared, without trace.
As she confronts Ísafold’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend Björn, and begins to probe her sister’s reclusive neighbours – who have their own reasons for staying out of sight – Áróra is led into an ever-darker web of intrigue and manipulation.
Baffled by the conflicting details of her sister’s life, and blinded by the shiveringly bright midnight sun of the Icelandic summer, Áróra enlists the help of police officer Daníel, as she tries to track her sister’s movements, and begins to tail Björn – but she isn’t the only one watching…
Hi and welcome back to #ScandiSaturday! In case you missed it last week, you can find my Scandi overview here. Today, I’ll be talking about Cold as Hell by Lilja Sigurðardóttir.
I’m a huge fan of Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Reykjavík Noir Trilogy and I was hoping to get a similar vibe from this new five-book An Áróra Investigates series, and well, if Cold as Hell is anything to go by, I’ll be a huge fan of the Áróra series as well!
Áróra has been stuck between worlds all her life. Daughter of an Icelandic father and a British mother, she speaks both languages, looks Icelandic, but feels British. Her older sister Ísafold is the exact opposite, she’s the elf to Áróra’s Icelandic troll-ness. Dark and petite she looks far more at home in Britain, but she feels utterly Icelandic.
Their now-deceased father always told Áróra that although she was the younger sibling, she was much stronger and therefore should be the one to take care of her sister. This sense of sisterly love and duty is what makes Áróra hop on a plane to Iceland every time her sister calls to say that she’s been abused by her boyfriend and is leaving him this time. But then she never sees it through and frankly, Áróra is at the end of her tether. However, when Ísafold hasn’t been in touch with their mum for a while, Áróra – although sure her sister is just avoiding them – goes back to Iceland to find out what’s happened.
Besides this main storyline, there is lots more going on. Áróra is a twist on the classic private investigator: she works as a financial investigator. Basically, she follows the money, finds it, and gets a cut when she returns it to wherever and whomever it’s supposed to go. At the hotel she’s staying in, she stumbles across something that smells a wee bit off to her financial bloodhound nose, so of course she sticks that nose in where it’s not wanted. Meanwhile, in her sister’s apartment block there are quite a few people with secrets of their own.
I absolutely love the journey Lilja Sigurðardóttir took me on! Even though this was the fifth book by her I’ve read, and the umpteenth Nordic Noir, everything felt fresh and new. The story is set around the summer solstice and I was fully prepared to miss the cold and the dark, but it turns out Iceland under the midnight sun is just as atmospheric! (And the days almost as cold, it’s Iceland after all.)
Once again expertly translated by Quentin Bates, Cold as Hell was an absolute pleasure to read and one I’d highly recommend to fans of Nordic literature. With its excellent pace and its intriguing characters, Cold as Hell is a multilayered and suspenseful thriller, slipping effortlessly and seamlessly from one storyline to another and back again. By the end, all the threads neatly come together in a most natural fashion, leaving Áróra on track for her next investigation. Name the place and date, and I’ll be there!
Cold as Hell is out now in all digital formats and will be out in paperback on 28 October. (Pre)order directly from Orenda Books here.
Massive thanks to Orenda Books for the proof copy. All opinions are my own.