Today I am delighted to join the blog tour for The Commandments by Óskar Guðmundsson, translated into english by Quentin Bates. I’ve been really loving reading more and more Icelandic crime fiction, and my thanks go to publisher Corylus Books for inviting me to join the tour and providing an advance copy of the book for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Former detective Salka Steinsdóttir finds herself unwillingly pitched into the toughest investigation of her life, just as she returns to the tranquil north of Iceland to recover from a personal trauma.
The victim is someone she had pursued earlier in her career – and had never been able to pin down. Now a killer has taken the law into their own hands and meted out brutal retribution for ancient crimes.
Salka is faced with tracking down the murderer of a stalwart of the church and the community, a man whose reputation stretches deep into the past, and even into the police team tasked with solving the case.
As the killer prepares to strike again, Salka and her team search for the band of old friends who could be either killers or victims – or both.
A bestseller in Iceland, The Commandments asks many challenging questions as it takes on some highly controversial issues.
Dark, powerful, and, at times, quite intense, this book draws you into the story right from the start. There is an almost surreal quality to the opening chapter but a real feeling of foreboding that casts shadows that will permeate the story right to the last page. Whilst there is an almost disconnect from the very dark, quite violent scenes which follow, you get the essence of where this story is leading, to a place which, whilst fiction, could easily have been taken from real life. This is a story of retribution, but despite the victimology, it really isn’t of the divine kind.
I really liked the edginess to this story. Everything, from the central characters, to the setting, right down to the method of dispatch of the victims, is designed to keep the reader on edge, and yet is is strangely compelling. Whilst there was never any doubt in my mind as to the nature of the crimes the victims were judged to have committed, the identity of the avenger remains very carefully hidden, and it is this mystery, along with the real motive, which kept me completely engaged in the investigation. I had many theories, may suspects, but due to careful manipulation of the investigation and a fair amount of misdirection by the author, the truth remained carefully concealed until the end. Even by that point, for both me and our protagonist, Salka, it could easily have gone one of two ways. I liked that edge, the suspense, and liked the way in which clues were very cleverly and pointedly revealed.
I really liked the character of Salka Steinsdóttir. She is a complex character, determined and focused but clearly haunted by her past and, having only recently returned to Iceland, seeingly reluctant to address her immediate future. She isn’t even technically a police officer when she is asked to step in an lead the investigation into a truly brutal and almost ritualistic murder. But as someone who had, in her former career, investigated the victim, she is certainly best placed to determine if those accusations have any bearing on his fate. And it is a very dark fate indeed. It put me in mind of some of the more intense episodes of the TV show, Dexter.
This is a very topical read, a theme which is often repeated in crime novels because of the way in which it has been so prevalent in real life. The abuse of power, betrayal of trust, is at the heart of the novel, and as readers we are placed in a very strange position of perhaps feeling more empathy for the perpetrator of the heinous crimes than we are the victim. We know the how of their crimes, we are present right up to the most critical point of what can only be called an execution. And, whilst not graphically described, the way in which the killer displays their victim is designed, very effectively and in a most visual way, to shock. Can the killings be justified? Never. Understood? That really is where the line becomes perhaps a little less well defined. Óskar Guðmundsson has done a brilliant job of creating that sense of conflict within me as the reader. I wasn’t as uncomfortable with the fate of the victims as maybe, morally, I should have been.
There is a kind of tragic inevitability in what she learn about Salka by the end of the novel, something that whilst not entirely unexpected when revealed, is no less emotionally impactful. And it fits the overall tone of the novel, that sadness, melancholy even, tinged with moments of real tension, fear and anger. There is a real cinematic feel to the story, with a real sense of place that puts readers in the heart of the investigation. A big nod to translator Quentin Bates who has managed to capture all that intensity of feeling, and essence of the settings, on the page so perfectly.
If you like your fiction on the darker side, I think this will definitely appeal. I’m really looking forward to reading more from the author in the future.
About the Author
One of the rising stars of Icelandic crime fiction, Óskar Guðmundsson has been writing since he was a youngster, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that his novel Hilma was published – and was an immediate success, winning the Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic crime novel of 2015. This was followed by a sequel, Blood Angels, in 2018.
The first of his books to be published in an English translation, The Commandments is a standalone novel which appeared in Iceland in 2019. All of Óskar’s books have been bestsellers and rewarded with outstanding reviews. The TV rights to Hilma have been acquired by Sagafilm.
His latest book is The Dancer, which has been published simultaneously as an ebook, audiobook and paperback – accompanied by an original song in which Óskar’s words have been put to music featuring some of Iceland’s leading musicians.
Óskar’s talents don’t end there, as he’s also an artist and has held a number of exhibitions of his work.
About the Author
Quentin Bates has roots in Iceland that go very deep. In addition to writing fiction of his own, he has translated into English books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Sólveig Pálsdóttir, Guðlaugur Arason, Einar Kárason, Ragnar Jónasson and others. One of the original founders of IcelandNoir crime fiction festival in Reykjavik.
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