Jónína Leósdóttir (trans Sylvia Bates and Quentin Bates)
Corylus Books, 30 October 2022 (e), 15 November 2022 (PB)
Available as: PB, 288pp, e
Source: Advance copy
I'm grateful to Corylus for sending me a copy of Deceit to consider for review, and for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.
It's been interesting over the past couple of years to see the different approaches that authors have taken to the covid-19 pandemic. Some ignore it, some write as though it is past and one with and life is back to normal. Only a few though - at least that I've seen - accept the challenge of setting events squarely in the midst of lockdowns, quarantine rules and public health campaigns.
That is what Jónína Leósdóttir has chosen to do with Deceit and I have to say, the result in absolutely cracking. Set in Iceland in March and April 2020, the book introduces each chapter with a newsflash giving infection statistics and updates on events, and the action closely its characters' varying responses.
Adam, a psychologist in private practice in Reykjavík, is inclined to take things very seriously, sanitising hands and anything that's newly come into his cosy basement flat, which he leave sonly reluctantly. Adam's ex-wife, detective Soffía, is rather more cavalier, while various owners of local businesses - cafés, a deli, a small hotel - bemoan the impact of the virus and the lockdown on their businesses. The story is interestingly sited at that point where the most serious issue was believed to be physical contact rather than airborne transmission, so there is less focus on masking and ventilation and more on distancing, leading to to some amusing scenes as the characters move around each other, so to speak. Having lived through all this only two years ago it's all very recognisable.
The inhabitants of Reykjavík are soon, however, about to face something much less humorous and indeed malign as potentially deadly tampering with fruit and other foods spreads around the capital and the country. At the epicentre are those same small business owners, but it's frustratingly hard for Soffía to link the cases together, or establish the motivation or perpetrator. She has few resources. Adam reluctantly assists, largely because he's nearly broke and the police will pay him for consultation, but most police time is going into enforcing covid rules so really the two of them are on their own.
They do, though, while bickering gently in the manner you'd expect of a long established couple, gradually come to understand the victims, if not the perpetrator, peeling away layers of lies and deception about a most remarkable - if reprehensible - man and his bizarre family.
Meantime, Adam is also providing private consultations, including helping a young woman near to despair.
Add in the mysterious Jenný, a woman who we sometimes encounter in Adam's flat but who avoids contact with others, and Deceit provides a gallery of fascinating and complex characters struggling with a wide range of issues. Adam's insights as a psychologist are often the key to understanding what's going on, although he's less adept at using it in his own life and with his family - his wife, his daughter. The mystery behind the events is in the end both simple and fiendishly rooted in real lives and past events, all of which need to be teased out and prove addictively plausible.
An enthralling and fun read, then, and I hope Corylus can bring us more translations of Leósdóttir's novels (hopefully also rendered into English by Sylvia Bates and Quentin Bates, whose version is lucid, compelling and clear).
For more information about Deceit, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below.