A(nother) Year of Orenda – Cold As Hell by Lilja Sigurðardóttir translated by Quentin Bates

Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on Cold As Hell, the first book in a brand new series by Lilja Sigurðardóttir and translated by Quentin Bates. I love Lilja’s writing and have been looking forward to reading this book for a while. My thanks to publisher Orenda Books for providing the advance copy and to Anne Cater or Random Things Tours for the tour invite. Here’s what the book is all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: Ebook 28 August 2021
Paperback 28 October 2021
Publisher: Orenda Books

About the Book

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…

Slick, tense, atmospheric and superbly plotted, Cold as Hell marks the start of a riveting, addictive new series from one of Iceland’s best selling crime writers.

My Thoughts

If you have come to this book expecting a fast paced, action driven story with all of the quirks that were to be found in Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Reykjavik Noir series, you may be disappointed. This is a slower paced, more contemplative novel, one in which a sense of melancholy is infused from the very beginning, but one that is no less compelling or addictive as a result. There is a kind of coldness to the opening chapter, a sense of foreboding and an understanding of what will come to pass in the ensuing pages, even if we do not know the full who are why yet. The who will be clear very quickly, discovering the how and why are really the sole purpose of Áróra’s return to Iceland, even if she is not as aware as we, the readers, are of this fact.

This is, in essence, the story of a missing person. Receiving a call from her mother, Áróra returns to the country of her birth, a country she can no longer identify with as home, in a bid to find her sister, Ísafold, who has seemingly vanished without a trace. At the very least she has failed to keep in contact with their mother, something which is very out of character for her. We follow Áróra as she tries to track her sister’s movements, navigating her world, tracking her extended family and speaking to her neighbours in a bid to find out what has happened since their mother lost contact. Her investigations reveal some worrying truths about Ísafold’s relationship, but do they bring her any closer to discovering the truth. Meanwhile, someone is working hard to keep a dark secret, one which drew me deeper into the story. And there are more reasons why Ísafold’s neighbours are being so evasive, reasons which draw directly upon a very relatable and all too common issue of the modern world.

What I love about Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s writing is that she creates characters that I may not always like, I may not always approve of the actions, but in whom I become so invested that I am pulled deeper into the story. That is certainly the case in Cold As Hell and in Áróra we have a protagonist who is quite spiky, almost selfish in outlook at times, her reluctance in tracing her sister almost halting her investigations before they begin. But there is another side to Áróra as just as you think you have her figured out, that deeper emotional core, the one she tries to hide, is brought to the fore. Beyond it all, she is quite astute, and the kind of character that gets under your skin, leaving me admiring her strength and intelligence. She is an intriguing character, one who I could identify with in many ways, but one who felt real, three dimensional, and authentic. The people around her, the people on the periphery of her investigations all add to the story in their own ways, all unique personalities who range from the obsessional to the emotional and everything in between. There is a clear chemistry between Áróra and her ‘not-quite’ Uncle, Daníel, one that never quite peaks for a variety of reasons. It’s something I’ll be interested to see if the author explores further in future books.

Exploring the refugee situation, coercive control, fraud and the themes of family, love and, ultimately, revenge, this book brought forth a range of emotions and kept me immersed in its pages from start to finish. For fans of the author’s other books you may recognise the odd character or two, and whilst only on the edges of this particular story I have a feeling they could well make a return. It brings a nice sense of familiarity to the book, a sense of the interconnected nature of both the characters in this story and the country as a whole. Iceland may be a small island, and the communities that Ísafold engaged with may well have been limited in size and number, but the author has an ability to bring them to life, to make you feel every twist and turn of the volcanic and city landscapes, all of which adds to the sense of desolation that flows throughout the story. It is very effective and for every moment of light within the story, you have an equal moment of darkness and brooding where the stark truth of this sad tale come to mind. A nod to translator Quentin Bates who has enabled that image of the landscape to flow perfectly in English, giving even the least geographically aware reader a real sense of setting.

Whilst there is a kind of sad inevitability about this story, there was, for me at least, a kind of excitement about what is yet to come. In just one book Áróra has proven her ability to upset the status quo, to challenge corruption, at least if there is something in it for her, and to make a real impression on those around her. This has been another beautifully crafted mystery, powered by authentic characters, well balanced emotional drive and intrigue, atmospheric setting and top notch storytelling. Roll on book two.

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.

About the Translator

Quentin Bates escaped English suburbia as a teenager, jumping at the chance of a gap year working in Iceland. For a variety of reasons, the gap year stretched to become a gap decade, during which time he went native in the north of Iceland, acquiring a new language, a new profession as a seaman and a family, before decamping en masse for England. He worked as a truck driver, teacher, netmaker and trawlerman at various times before falling into journalism, largely by accident. He is the author of a series of crime novels set in present-day Iceland (Frozen Out, Cold Steal, Chilled to the Bone, Winterlude, Cold Comfort and Thin Ice) which have been published worldwide. He has translated all of Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series.

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Books by Lilja Siguardóttir

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