Today it is my absolute pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for Betrayal, the brand new thriller form author Lilja Sigurdardóttir. I loved Lilja’s Reykjavik Noir series and was really excited to get my grips on a copy of the book courtesy of lovely publisher Orenda Books. It’s safe to say I also purchase a copy of Kindle because I have to keep my collection alive, obviously. Translated once again by Quentin Bates, let’s take a look at what this formidable team have brought us this time around.
About the Book
When aid worker Úrsula returns to Iceland for a new job, she’s drawn into the dangerous worlds of politics, corruption and misogyny … a powerful, relevant, fast-paced standalone thriller.
Burned out and traumatised by her horrifying experiences around the world, aid worker Úrsula has returned to Iceland. Unable to settle, she accepts a high-profile government role in which she hopes to make a difference again.
But on her first day in the post, Úrsula promises to help a mother seeking justice for her daughter, who had been raped by a policeman, and life in high office soon becomes much more harrowing than Úrsula could ever have imagined. A homeless man is stalking her – but is he hounding her, or warning her of some danger? And why has the death of her father in police custody so many years earlier reared its head again?
As Úrsula is drawn into dirty politics, facing increasingly deadly threats, the lives of her stalker, her bodyguard and even a witch-like cleaning lady intertwine. Small betrayals become large ones, and the stakes are raised ever higher…
Well if this book is representative of Icelandic politics … Blimey. And I thought I used to have it tough at work. Even my worst week in the old job wasn’t a patch on trials and tribulations of the role that Úrsula takes on when she agrees to become Iceland’s temporary Minister for the Interior. Threats, potential corruption and political scandal, a crazed stalker and a mother desperate to see her daughter’s rapist brought to justice. And that’s just the beginning. It only gets worse from there …
If there is one thing you can guarantee with any book from Lilja Siguardóttir it is that she is going to give you a story that absolutely grips you from the off which is exactly what Betrayal does. As Úrsula takes up her new role you can tell from the very start that everything will be an uphill battle. She wasn’t the obvious choice for the role, even in a temporary capacity, and with people around her seemingly getting in her way, putting up obstacles or just being very obviously combative, you’d be forgiven for wondering what made her say yes in the first place. But there are some very good reasons for all that happens throughout the book, things which are slowly revealed to the audience. It’s like peeling an onion – layer upon layer torn away resulting in more than the occasional spillage of tears along the way.
Úrsula is a fascinating character. With a job history that includes working in some of the most volatile and dealy of situations – from war to ebola outbreaks – you know that you are faced with a very gutsy character who is not afraid to stand up for herself. Some of her decisions are questionable, most notably her initial reluctance to accept any kind of security – a decision she soon comes to regret. And yet there is a vulnerability about her, a real sense that beneath her confident exterior is someone who is ultimately broken, a fact that reveals itself in a number of surprising and yet almost anticipated ways. She is a wife and mother whose family do mean the world to them and yet who has a reluctance to share the very essence of who she has become. I felt both empathetic towards her and yet often frustrated too but the autor has done a brilliant job of maintaining a fine balance which kept me fully on her side, especially against the misogynistic and deceptive behaviours of the people around her.
Stella was another brilliantly drawn character. Very unique and seemingly innocuous in terms of the role she might play in Úrsula’s life. She is, afterall, a cleaner – hardly at the sharp edge of Icelandic politics. And yet she is exactly the kind of person that people in power often overlook. Less so Úrsula who is very kind towards Stella, a generosity of spirit illustrated in their every interaction. Much like Úrsula, Stella is harbouring secrets and there are many facets to her character which made her a joy to read about, as well as occasionally feeling let down by her actions.
I must admit that I really did like the character of Gunnar. He is assigned as Úrsula’s driver and bodyguard, a job her takes very, very seriously. Almost too seriously at times and he did make me smile. Like Stella and Úrsula, there is an element of the broken man to his character, a part of him that he keeps tucked away and that keeps him focused on his job and protecting others. This plays out most clearly in his personal relationships and I love the way the author has explored this, as well as developing the relationship between him and Úrsula. He makes some rookie errors but with the best of intentions and you can’t help but admire his dedication even if, on occasion, it is a bit OTT.
There is a lot going on in this book and with parts of Úrsula’s past coming to bear upon her present it is not always clear exactly who if the real enemy that she faces. There is an ongoing sense of threat throughout, and whilst sometimes this threat is quite blatant and obvious, there are other aspects to the story which remain well hidden until near the end. It is hard to know initially what is a substantive threat to Úrsula and her family and what is part of a long played political game that Úrsula really doesn’t know the rules to. I definitely didn’t know who to trust and, in fairness, outside of her immediate family, the list of people I didn’t suspect could be counted on one hand. Assuming it was a hand where I’d lost a thumb and two fingers in a gardening accident …
As always the sense of place is pitch perfect, from the hallowed halls of the government office, to Úrsula’s home, to the other myriad of locations in the novel, I could picture the various tower blocks of the city skyline, feel the chill of the snow that covers the pavements and feel every emotion, from fear to anger, emanating from the page. Hats off to Quentin Bates for another flawless translation too.
This is a perfectly named novel examining the many different aspects and layers of betrayal that make up Úrsula’s life. From her own actions to those of the people around her, and from family to politics to friendships, there are so many twists and turns and so many lies being told you will be hard pressed to tell truth from fiction. With great characters, an intriguing story and an injustice from the past that seemed destined to be corrected, the book kept me completely enthralled from start to finish. Whether you love the author’s work or are looking for your first taste of Icelandic fiction, this book is definitely recommended.
About the Author
Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, including Snare and Trap, the first two books in the Reykjavik Noir trilogy, which have hit bestseller lists worldwide. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.
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Books by Lilja Siguardóttir