The small community of Akranes is devastated when a young man dies in a mysterious house fire, and when Detective Elma and her colleagues from West Iceland CID discover the fire was arson, they become embroiled in an increasingly perplexing case involving multiple suspects.
What’s more, the dead man’s final online search raises fears that they could be investigating not one murder, but two. A few months before the fire, a young Dutch woman takes a job as an au pair in Iceland, desperate to make a new life for herself after the death of her father.
But the seemingly perfect family who employs her turns out to have problems of its own and she soon discovers she is running out of people to turn to. As the police begin to home in on the truth, Elma, already struggling to come to terms with a life-changing event, finds herself in mortal danger as it becomes clear that someone has secrets they’ll do anything to hide…
Night Shadows is the third book in Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s excellent ‘Forbidden Iceland’ series, following on from The Creak on the Stairs and Girls Who Lie, and I have to say I think it might be her best yet!
Picking up a few months after the events of Girls Who Lie, Night Shadows sees Detective Elma and her colleagues from West Iceland CID investigating the death of a young man in a house fire. What looks like a tragic accident soon turns into a murder investigation when it becomes apparent that Marinó Finnsson was not killed by the fire. But who would want to murder a seemingly popular young man from the suburbs? And, if the Finnsson family are the only people with keys to the property, how did Marinó end up locked inside a burning building?
A case already filled with questions only gets more complicated when online searches made by Marinó in the days before his death suggest that Elma and her team might be looking at not one murder, but two. As the investigation into Marinó’s death progresses, Elma finds herself tracing the fate of a young Dutch au pair whilst also coming to terms with her own life-changing news.
As with previous entries in the series, Night Shadows works perfectly well as a standalone mystery (although I’d urge new readers to go back and read both The Creak on the Stairs and Girls Who Lie as they’re excellent!), featuring a self-contained investigation. Some developments in the personal lives of Elma, her colleagues Sævar and Hörður, and their respective families do develop over the course of the series – and probably more so in this novel than in previous entries – but significant interpersonal connections and the historical developments in those are explained clearly and concisely, allowing new readers to catch up without bogging down the narrative for readers already familiar with the team at West Iceland CID.
I don’t want to give away any story spoilers but I will say that I really enjoyed Elma’s personal story in Night Shadows. Elma is already one of my favourite detectives – smart, dedicated, and hard-working – but in this novel we see a little more of her home life and some of her vulnerabilities as she confronts a major life change. I also love that we are getting to know her colleagues Sævar and Hörður a little more and, for a returning reader, it was nice to see some returning characters from the rest of Akranes too. Getting an insight into the community is one of my favourite aspects of this series.
That said, the focus of Night Shadows does remain on the police investigation. Alternating between the perspective of the police investigation and that of various people connected with the crime, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir deftly weaves together a number of complex narratives strands into a compelling and page-turning mystery thriller. As in the previous novel in the series, Girls Who Lie, there’s also a chilling and atmospheric psychological thriller element amidst the twists of the police procedural narrative, with occasional flashbacks to events before the fire as well as glimpses into the mind of Marinó’s killer.
Although never gory or overtly violent, Night Shadows doesn’t shy away from touching upon darker themes or difficult topics so content warnings for arson, descriptions of fire/fire injury, infidelity, pregnancy, alcohol/drug use and, of course, murder.
Victoria Cribb’s skilful translation is smooth and effective. The emotions and linguistic inflections of the characters are really well conveyed and I really appreciated the pronunciation guide of names and place that was included at the start of the book. I prefer character names not to be anglicised as part of a translation because it evokes a greater sense of character and place – but I also appreciate getting the pronunciation right, even if that’s only in my head!
As with previous novels in the series, Night Shadows is sure to appeal to existing fans of Icelandic/Scandi/Nordic noir. However, with its taut plotting, attention to detail, and chilling psychological undertones, it’s also the perfect read for fans of police procedurals and psychological thrillers. If you love TV shows such as Broadchurch, Hinterland and Vigil, or books such as Ann Cleve’s Vera Stanhope books or Lin Anderson’s Rhona Macleod series, I’d urge you to venture into Forbidden Iceland and give Eva Björg Ægisdóttir a try!
Night Shadows 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 Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery, as well as direct from the Orenda Books online store.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, 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 from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 29 July 2022 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.
Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!