Cold As Hell by Lilja Sigurdadottir

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Cold As Hell by Lilja Sigurdadottir

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Not as atmospheric as it might have been, but a decent mystery story as the hunt for a missing person closes in on what might or might not have happened.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 276 Date: October 2021
Publisher: Orenda Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1913193881

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In a red suitcase as the bottom of a fissure in a lava field, there is a body. And the man who has put her there has just discovered that he is capable of killing.

Áróra's sister has disappeared. At least that's how their mother puts it. She hasn't phoned for two weeks and hasn't posted anything on Facebook. This is unlike her. Áróra wouldn't know, she's not much in touch with her sister these days. Not since the last time Ísafold went back to the husband who regularly beat her. Not since Ísafold blocked her on Facebook. Áróra had got tired of travelling from England to Iceland to bail out her older sister, when she was clearly going to keep walking back into the fire.

Persuaded by her mother's obvious concern, however, she does get on the plane Reykjavik. No-one seems to have seen Ísafold for a few weeks. Her husband says she just upped and left. He's told everyone she went back to England.

Was he the man on the lava field? Or was it the strange Grimur who lives in the flat below, the man who shaves his entire body several times a day? He was the one Ísafold often went to when she needed to escape her violent husband. Or what about the refugee, Omar, who is hiding out in the flat opposite, on the run from the police who are circulating his picture. He seems keen to help the old woman who is sheltering him, but are appearances what they seem.

No-one is saying anything.

Meanwhile Áróra has become involved with an investigation all of her own – her speciality is tracking down missing money for banks, tax authorities, defrauded divorcees, anyone who will pay her a percentage of whatever she recovers – and she recovers a lot. It's an unusual job and she's good at it.

Cold as Hell tracks the two parallel investigations, deftly giving us reason to suspect a number of people of involvement in Ísafold's death – if indeed it is her in the red suitcase. No-one knows about the suitcase other than the man who put it there. Iceland is a big place with not many people.

Having a protagonist with dual parentage (Icelandic / English) enables Sigurdadottir to explore Iceland and Icelandic culture from an outsider's perspective, whilst maintaining the ability to have the insider's access, particularly in terms of language etc.

Satsifying as a stand-alone novel, Cold as Hell is clearly doing the hard work of a "set up" for a series. We now have a reason for Áróra to be able to speak Icelandic, though she's grown up in England and feels more English, we know that she was her father's favourite and the stronger of the two sisters physically, we know she has the kind of job that has her working outside of the law albeit on the side of the good guys.

As a one-off thriller, I feel this one would have worked better without the prologue. Even so, it works well enough as a mystery piece, and there are enough suspects and suspicions to keep the pages turning.

For more fixes of crime in cold climates, we can recommend Unrest by Jesper Stein and Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen

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