Katrín Júlíusdóttir (translated by Quentin Bates)
Orenda Books, 1 December 2023
Available as: HB, 256pp, audio, e
Source: Advance copy
I'm grateful to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me a copy of Dead Sweet to consider for review, and to Anne for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.
Dead Sweet is an intriguing and enthralling debut novel, written by an ex Minister in the Icelandic Government and showing, I think, the insight of an insider in its portrayal of government, police and wider society.
The story follows detective Sigurdís as she attempts to unravel the murder of prominent campaigner turned civil servant Óttar Karlsson. Karlsson was a man accustomed to getting his way but it soon emerges that he was also a man who kept secrets and whose life was lived in compartments. As the police dig deeper and deeper, they begin to uncover a host of potential motives - but there is an understandable caution at digging too deep. Will Sigurdís be able to persuade her boss Garðar to pursue potentially embarrassing leads?
I have to say, I totally loved Sigurdís as a protagonist. Where's a whiff of darkness about her - she is struggling rather in her chosen career after losing it when on patrol one evening and her colleagues are torn between sympathy (she had a difficult upbringing which has left her with trauma) and suspicion. The dynamic between her and them is one of several ways that Júlíusdóttir explores insiders and outsiders: she is both at the same time, as, it seems, was Karlsson. We are all, the author seems to be saying, many different people in the course of our lives and I was reminded of the "All the world's a stage" speech from "As You Like It" with various stages and aspects of both Sigurdís and Karlsson gradually emerging.
Indeed, Karlsson is, for someone we see briefly at the start of the story when he dies but who is, if not dead "to begin with", at least dead from then on, still very involved with the story. It's basically a process of exploring the impact he had on others: the harms, the impressions, the trauma and the delusions that he left behind. I think that's why Sigurdís becomes so obsessed, pushing the bounds of protocol and eventually stepping right over them in her determination to find the truth. Something in the "victim" resonates with her own sense of pain and hurt and unresolved loss - even as her own history seems to be coming back to haunt her.
If all that sounds a lot in a shortish book, and potentially rather heavy, it's really not - Júlíusdóttir spins a cracking tale and keeps the revelations and teasers unwinding so that there's something to discover on every page, and Sigurdís is an engaging and empathetic heroine who I look forward to hearing more about soon.
I would give a content warning for some scenes of domestic abuse and controlling behaviour.
For more information about Dead Sweet, see the Orenda Books website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below.