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.
It’s likely to be a good sign when an author’s debut comes with recommendations from Icelandic noir titans Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jónasson. And, sure enough, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s The Creak on the Stairs is a confident and compelling debut that makes for a strong addition to Orenda Books already excellent crime fiction stable.
Akranes is the sort of town where everyone knows everyone. The sort of place where you are born, you grow up, you marry, and you build a life. With the exception of those who leave to seek their fortunes in the big city of Reykjavík, it’s possible to be part of the same close-knit community for an entire life. So when the half-submerged body of a woman is found near the town’s old lighthouse, it’s almost certain she has a connection to the town. So why does everyone in town pretend to know nothing about Elisabet? And why did the dead woman choose to return to Akranes after so many years?
Chief Investigating Officer Elma, newly returned to Akranes herself, is tasked with unravelling these mysteries. Elma and her colleague Sævar begin to investigate Elisabet’s childhood, gradually revealing long-hidden secrets that the townspeople of Akranes – including their boss Hörður – would rather be forgotten. What is revealed will shock the sleepy community as Elisabet’s death gradually leads the investigators back to the disappearance of a little girl from the town many years before.
Alternating between the perspective of the young Elisabet and various members of the investigating team and townsfolk in the present day, A Creak on the Stair weaves together a compelling slow-burn narrative that packs a serious of vicious punches in its final pages, as revelation after revelation shakes the foundations of the Akranes community.
Whilst the novel isn’t gory or overtly violent, it doesn’t shy away from darker topics so trigger warnings for drug & alcohol abuse, child neglect, domestic violence, sexual abuse, child pornography, and self-harm. These harrowing topics are handled with sensitivity however and the novel is a testament to the numerous failings in social and community care that, eventually, lead to Elisabet’s murder.
Elma is an excellent lead in this respect. Compassionate but fierce, she is determined to prove the link between Elisabet’s tragic past in Akranes and her unfortunate end. Elma is also a haunted character herself. Having returned to Akranes following a personal tragedy, she is acutely aware of the reasons why someone might want to build life away from the town – and why they might be drawn back to right the wrongs of the past.
I also really warmed to Elmar’s colleague Sævar, as well as to her well-meaning but slightly over-bearing mother. Even those characters with something to hide were well-realised. Elma’s gruff but fair boss Hörður might be protecting old friends – or might just be caught between keeping the peace in a close-knit community and the demands of conducing a thorough investigation into Elisabet’s death. Magna, wife of a prominant local businessman, knows more than she is letting on – but who can blame her for wanting to look to the future instead of living in her past? Everyone, even the unsympathetic characters, felt three-dimensional and, as a result, the small-town community of Akranes came alive on the page.
Intricately plotted with some clever reveals scattered throughout the story to keep the pages turning, The Creak on the Stairs flows effortlessly from first page to last. By the end, you’ll be turning back to the start to see how it was all done, drawing new connections missed on first reading! Fans of Icelandic/Scandi/Nordic noir are sure to be delighted with this latest addition to the genre but The Creak on the Stairs will also appeal to those seeking a pacy and involving police procedural that comes with an added dash of the dark and chilling.
The Creak on the Stairs by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir (translated by Victoria Cribb) is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including the Orenda ebookstore, Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon.
Don’t forget that although your local bookshop might be closed at the moment, you can also support your local indie bookshops by ordering from them online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of May 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!