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17 September 2022

#BlogTour #Review - Harm by Solveig Pálsdóttir

Cover for book "Harm" by Sólveig Pálsdóttir. Seen though a veil of snow or ice, a shadowy dark hand.
Harm (Ice and Crime, 3)
Sólveig Pálsdóttir (Translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates)
Corylus Books, 27 August (e), 15 September (PB)
Source: Advance copy
ISBN: 9781916379787

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of Harm to consider for review and for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.

Harm takes us back to the world of Guðgeir Fransson and Elsa Guðrún, Reykjavík detectives, who on this occasion are called to the remote Westman Islands where a surgeon has been found dead in suspicious circumstances. Ríkarður Magnússon had recently taken up with a much younger woman, and was on a holiday with her and a group of her friends - people with whom, you'd think, he has very little in common.

The book is unusually written in that, it seems, we know early on what's happened - and the task of the detectives will simply be to uncover the how and the why. And in a sense, we do. Pálsdóttir is scrupulous in following the rules of detective fiction - so that nothing we're shown here about the crime proves to have been a dream or a fiction within the fiction - but at the same time, there is also more here than meets the eye, much more. To begin with, as Guðgeir and Elsa pick their way through the lives and lifestyles of the small group of friends, we see an unexpected side of Iceland - a focus on New Age spirituality and self-discovery, hinted at perhaps one e or twice in earlier books in this series but more fully explored here. It's satisfyingly different from our familiar view of Iceland, now a gleaming land of snow and ice under the Northern Lights, now a dark, noiry place under fun of a volcanic eruption. Rather here we have interior discovery, wellness and spiritual quests.

Diljá, Magnússon's young wife (but don't tell anyone - they're keeping it quiet) stands on the threshold of that realm, a rather sad figure who's lived a difficult life, and the link between many different worlds in this book. She is, or has been, something of an outcast, someone who has found it difficult to make a place in the world for her and her daughter. She won't do well in police custody, we fear.

Then, there's the intricate relationship between Fransson and his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. The book is punctuated by childcare, lost nights of sleep and domestic routines: many of the key conversations take place over meals, either as they are cooked or as they are eaten. 

In a slightly darker vein, we also see the attempts by Guðrún to get her life and career back on track after the traumatic events of Silenced. No spoilers, but you absolutely must read these books in order, starting with The Fox - Fransson now projects a certain degree of calm, but readers of the first book will know that he's also been through trauma For both detectives, that background adds texture and grittiness to the relationships portrayed here, and while Harm is primarily a police procedural with the cops a little more distanced from events than in either of the earlier books knowing the backstory helps to make the main characters truly rounded, involving and human.

That sense of - I don't know, empathy? compassion? - in turn bleeds through to Diljá and her plight. Diljá is in quite a fix. As in the earlier books, Pálsdóttir has a knack for depicting people backed into a corner by society and responding in perhaps unexpected ways. They make mistakes, sometimes bad mistakes, get into trouble. Pálsdóttir's book belie Iceland being a cosy Northern haven, we see the forces of patriarchy at work as well as harsh economic necessity and the invulnerability of powerful men.

Very much a character study and an examination of motivations and consequences, Harm kept the pages on my Kindle humming by and made me hope for more soon about Fransson and Guðrún.

Quentin Bates' translation is clear and idiomatic, well suited to the nuanced storytelling in this book and to conveying the quirks and particularities of the characters.

About the Book

When wealthy doctor Ríkarður Magnússon goes to sleep in his luxurious caravan and doesn’t wake up, detectives Guðgeir Fransson and Elsa Guðrún are called to the Westman Islands to investigate what looks like murder.

Suspicion immediately falls on Ríkharður’s young, beautiful and deeply troubled girlfriend – but there are no easy answers in this case as they are drawn into family feuds, disgruntled friends and colleagues, and the presence of a group of fitness-obsessed over-achievers with secrets of their own.

As their investigation makes progress, Guðgeir and Elsa Guðrún are forced to confront their own preconceptions and prejudices as they uncover the sinister side of Ríkharður’s past.

Harm is the third novel featuring the soft-spoken Reykjavík detective Guðgeir Fransson to appear in English. Sólveig Pálsdóttir again weaves a complex web of intrigue that plays out in the Westman Islands, remote southern Iceland and Reykjavík while asking some searching questions about things society accepts at face value – and others it is not prepared to tolerate.

Sólveig Pálsdóttir

Sólveig Pálsdóttir trained as an actor and has a background in the theatre, television and radio. In a second career she studied for degrees in literature and education, and has taught literature and linguistics, drama and public speaking. She has also produced both radio programming and managed cultural events. Her first novel appeared in Iceland in 2012 and went straight to the country’s bestseller list. She has written six novels featuring Reykjavík detective Guðgeir Fransson, and a memoir Klettaborgin which was a 2020 hit in Iceland. Silenced (Fjötrar) received the 2020 Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic novel of the year and was Iceland’s nomination for the 2021 Glass Key award for the best Nordic crime novel of the year. Harm (Skaði), published in October 2021 in Iceland, made it to the bestseller list just like the previous books, and is her third novel to appear in English, following The Fox and Silenced.

She has taken part in several crime fiction and literary festivals such as Bristol’s CrimeFest, Newcastle Noir, Aberdeen’s Granite Noir and Iceland Noir. Sólveig lives in Reykjavík.

Quentin Bates

Quentin Bates has professional and personal roots in Iceland that run very deep. He worked as a seaman before turning to maritime journalism. He is an author of series of nine crime novels and novellas the Reykjavik detective featuring Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gísladóttir. In addition to writing his own fiction, he has translated books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Guðlaugur Arason, Einar Kárason, Óskar Guðmundsson and Ragnar Jónasson. Quentin was instrumental in launching IcelandNoir, the crime fiction festival in Reykjavik.

For more information about Harm, see the other stops on the blogtour,listed on the poster below and also the Corylus Books website here

You can buy Harm from your local bookshop, or online from Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyles, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

Blog tour poster for book "Harm" by Sólveig Pálsdóttir

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