Girls Who Lie by Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir and Victoria Cribb (translator)

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Girls Who Lie by Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir and Victoria Cribb (translator)

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A drama that parallels one person's very dark thoughts with a murder investigation, but one that doesn't have the vim or characterisation to counter the more grim aspects.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 276 Date: July 2021
Publisher: Orenda Books
ISBN: 978-1913193737

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You might be forgiven for thinking that all the dark corners of Iceland have featured in their noirish thrillers and crime books before now. You think, seeing on the map that we're set in Akranes, and finding it's only twenty kilometres from the capital city, that this author is clutching at the few final straws left. However just because the book aims for the usual small-town feel, it's not just in Akranes that our interests lie. Six months ago a woman failed to turn up for her date evening, and was never seen again. This left a teenaged girl not at all disappointed that she could now live permanently with the couple who had given her foster care before her mother had asked for the girl back, and a couple of delighted adopters. But it left our three detectives at a quandary – mobile phone use was at a high level until it stopped all of a sudden, in one place, the woman's car was found miles away in a second place, and now, after six months, the body has been discovered, in a third, even more remote place. Meanwhile, this narrative is interrupted by a confessional monologue from a mother who found herself with heavy post-natal depression, and very little maternal feeling in her body. Is the assumption that is so easy for the reader to make the right one?

This book, then, the second in a series that gleefully makes sure you need have read not one word of the first, is very much in the genre of Icelandic noir. We get the dark side of life, and here it is life and not just Icelandic life, for many will struggle with the feelings of the unnamed mother towards her unwanted child. And of course we get a crime. Sure, other authors put more weave and weft into their dramas, but even if the unwritten-about Iceland is definitely shrinking (I think Grimsey and all its hundred inhabitants are up for grabs...) this is definitely not hanging on the coat-tails of a vanishing genre. It's very much in the mix.

But what it's not doing is making too great a mark for itself, in my mind. I'm always of the thought that a thriller should be a book that non-lovers of the genre should be able to commend, that if it's the one time a year you go to that shelf in the library you come away with a greater appreciation for the whole idea, and come back for more. This didn't do that at all, for me. We get told a lot of the investigation that happened six months ago, and then see it all played out again when they reinvestigate now, worried that because it can now be called a murder case and not a missing person everyone's forgotten everything in the meantime, and worried too they'll get pulled up for doing half a job back in the spring.

Added to the fact the narrative takes a surprising amount of delight in a mid-point twist, that our lead female investigator is bedding her next-door neighbour, and not a colleague, I actually grew to want more of the mother's first person testimony – skipping the months and years, she took more and more of a pole position in proceedings for me. And as for the cops not having done well – well, they finally open the envelope upon which was written the last message from the missing/victim, seven months on, and then accuse people of using it as a red herring when nobody knew what was inside. No, they didn't do well, and still aren't. And while I don't like the quirk-for-quirk-sake style of detective, these guys have no quirks and little to do except act as windows for us upon the procedural. We certainly can't care for them, as they're not anything like fully rounded.

Opposed to the genre dabbler mentioned above, the reader who only reads thrillers needs consideration, too. For them must surely be the utter conviction they know the identity of either the killer, or the reluctant parent, or both. The author finds it easy to play with us, and we can see what she wants us to think. One character is so ignored and so far in the background I was sure he was to blame for something – but no, he's just underserved. The whole concept of the book, from the title down to the reveals, is something that leaches on to the page, and you might like the fact it comes slightly from outside our initial field of vision, and again you might not.

What it boils down to was a book that was not quite satisfactory. This was no tense procedural with a criminal doing something for the cops to react to, but just some cyphers of characters struggling with a semi-cold case. There is suitable heart and grit with the unusual mother character, but I don't think that reflects on the other pages. I am grateful to the publishers for my review copy, but I don't think many readers will find this an essential read.

For thrillers that do dazzle even the person who scarcely dabbles in the genre, I still favour Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and perhaps The Legacy is the best place to start with her.

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Buy Girls Who Lie by Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir and Victoria Cribb (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Girls Who Lie by Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir and Victoria Cribb (translator) at Amazon.com.

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