What better way to round off our Jolabokafloð countdown than to revisit my thoughts on The Creak on the Stairs, the debut novel from Icelandic author Eva Björg Ægisdóttir. I love Icelandic fiction, the atmosphere and tension the exudes from every page, and this was no exception. The absolutely brilliant news is that this was just the beginning, and I can’t wait for more. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
When a woman’s body is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, investigators discover shocking secrets in her past. First in a disturbing, chillingly atmospheric new series.
When a body of a woman is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, it soon becomes clear that she’s no stranger to the area.
Chief Investigating Officer Elma, who has returned to Akranes following a failed relationship, and her collegues Sævar and Hörður, commence an uneasy investigation, which uncovers a shocking secret in the dead woman’s past that continues to reverberate in the present day …
But as Elma and her team make a series of discoveries, they bring to light a host of long-hidden crimes that shake the entire community. Sifting through the rubble of the townspeople’s shattered memories, they have to dodge increasingly serious threats, and find justice … before it’s too late.
My first taste of Icelandic crime fiction, Icelandic fiction full stop to be fair, came in the shape of Snowblind, the first Ari Thor novel from Ragnar Jónasson. The reason I mention this, aside from the fact that he is another brilliant Orenda author, is that when I started to read Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s debut novel, The Creak On The Stairs, it put me very much in mind of his style of writing. That whole mysterious, atmospheric, slowly creeping and evolving mystery that is imbued on every page of this book has certain echoes of his style, but with the author’s own flair and a whole host of characters who both intrigued and surprised me in equal measure. All I know is that if you love Ragnar Jónasson’s writing, you are going to love this too.
This is, sort of, the story of Elma, who has just returned to her home town of Akranes to take up a new role with the local police, only to find herself in the unenviable position of investigating a very suspicious death. A woman’s body has been found, and it is up to the team to determine if she took her own life or if there was something else in play. As soon as they work out who she is and what connection, if any, she has with the town.
I liked the character of Elma. She was easy to get to know, even if she was nursing a secret that is kept beautifully hidden throughout. She is in pain following the end of a significant relationship, returning home as a form of escape, something I’m sure many people will identify with. She is pretty down to earth, no airs and graces, if a little preoccupied with her past and with trying to find her feet in a work environment which is predominantly masculine. She does find herself an ally in Begga who is a fellow officer, and a really fun and straight talking character in her own right. There is a good friendship which builds there, one that felt natural and works well on the page.
Speaking of natural chemistry though, the pairing of Elma and Sævar is a very tempting one as a reader. It is not your ‘love at first sight’ kind of relationship, both of their lives too complicated for that to work, but there is definitely something that is growing between them the author offering a tantalizing promise of what could be to come, should conditions fall perfectly. It will certainly work to keep readers on the hook.
Speaking of which, the story is one which is full of mystery and suspense, and drew me in from the very early chapters. This is not simply a story of a body washing up at sea, it is far more complex than that. From the dark and almost harrowing start to this book, you know that you are faced with a book that is going to take you to some very dark places. Not in any gratuitous way, but interspersed amongst the present day narrative are scenes told through the eyes of a young girl, one who has experienced not only great lose but also abuse of the most heinous nature.
None of it plays out on the page – it doesn’t need to. The way the author builds the tension in the piece, leading us to the very crest of the oh too dangerous wave, without allowing us to see the immediate effects of it as it comes crashing down, is spot on. You will see the residual carnage, see the devastation that is left in the wake of this particular storm, but the picture is built slowly. The results are emotional, and very effective. It plays ot the styling of this piece perfectly and makes for a truly unforgettable read.
If this is just the first book in a series (I truly hope so) then I will be a very happy reader. We have characters here that I can, and do, root for, writing which is both emotionally manipulative and so brilliant in creating a sense of place, and time and which holds the atmospheric and almost hauntingly melancholic tone of the story from the first page to the last. Stirling stuff. Highly recommended.
About the Author
Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir studied for an MSc in Globalisation in Norway before returning to Iceland and deciding to write a novel – something she had wanted do to since she won a short-story competition at the age of fifteen. After nine months combining her writing with work as a stewardess and caring for her children, Eva had finished The Creak on the Stairs. It was published in 2018, and became a bestseller in Iceland. It also went on to win the Blackbird Award, a prize set up by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jonasson to encourage new Icelandic crime writers.
Eva lives in Reykjavík with her husband and three children and is currently working on her next novel.
TRANSLATED BY VICTORIA CRIBB
Books by Eva Bjorg Ægisdottir