30 May 2024

#Blogtour #Review - Elusive by Genevieve Cogman

Genevieve Cogman
Pan Macmillan/ Tor, 23 May 2024
Available as: HB, 400pp,  audio, e   
Source: Advance e copy
ISBN(HB): 9781529083774

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

The sequel to Cogman's Scarlet, Elusive features the characters, and setting, of Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel series in which an English nobleman and his friends, acting anonymously, rescue French aristocrats from the Terror during the Revolution.

In Scarlet, the premise was established, with our reluctant hero, housemaid Eleanor, being "lent" by her vampire (I'll come to that in a moment) employer, Lady Sophie, to Sir Percy Blakeney (the Pimpernel) and his crew to that she can impersonate Marie Antoinette to facilitate a rescue. (Yes, Eleanor closely resembles the French Queen, something which I speculate may be a future plot point). All Eleanor wants is the opportunity to set up as a modiste, earning an honest living through her needleworks skills, but it is not to be.  Cogman draws Eleanor as a convincing protagonist who's not afraid to think for herself, albeit the position she's in is precarious due to the vagaries of the English class system and, of course, patriarchy. Any fear I had that that exploring Orczy's "rescue the aristos" angle might seem dated or crass was rapidly dispelled by the intelligent and engaged way in which Cogman presents the realities of Revolutionary France and the crimes of the ancien regime. She also overcomes that fact that she's probably the only person living now who's read the Pimpernel books and that for many, knowledge of them will be limited to the "They seek him here, they seek him there" verses and the Carry On parody. (Is there a proper literary term for works better known from derivatives and parodies than from the original text?) 

With Elusive, Eleanor pretty much gets her own adventure, driving much of the action (albeit she has to be somewhat underhand about this) and getting back to France, in the absence of Sir Percy (hence the book's title) to stage a diversionary raid on Mont Saint Michel, where a large number of prisoners are held hostage. 

As we learned in Scarlet, vampires are a thing in this world, indeed they're one of the evils against which the people of France rose. The vampires formerly had enemies in the order of magicians/ sorcerers who they defeated and had expunged from history. Eleanor just happens though to have the should have the last remaining sorcerer, Anima, hitching a ride with her. And Anima has her own plans, which also involve Mont Saint Michel...

I loved Scarlet, but now I find I actually enjoyed Elusive even more. Eleanor has much more licence here and is less subject to others' machinations and orders. The relationship with Anima, her unexpected passenger, grows and develops, the two very different women struggling with, but learning to understand and trust, one another. Eleanor has grown, and deepens further here in her understanding of the world, and wherever her story is going, it isn't leading to her becoming an enthusiastic lackey of the British Establishment: she can see the reasons for the Revolution, and enthusiastically urges another young woman, freed from captivity, to strive to make it a better Revolution. There's a questioning side to Eleanor's nature which contrasts with the other members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. They may be perfectly affable, honourable young men by their own lights, they are brave and by no means stupid, but nor have been servants and so they are comfortable with a level of privilege and wealth which is only maintained by repression. 

Eleanor sees more clearly.

This story is both more straightforward and more layered than its predecessor. More straightforward, in that it's clearer from the start what Eleanor faces, and what she is doing. We don't have to wait for it to be revealed where the story is going. More layered, because with different factions in play - several different groups of vampires, including the late Marie Antoinette, now one of the undead, the French authorities, personified by Citizen Chauvelin, who has his own difficulties, the sorcerers, whose motivations and fate become clearer and who have some remaining power via Anima, and lots more besides (spoilers!) - Eleanor has to dig deep into her store of knowledge, talent, and courage, and also broaden it with new abilities. She has power, up to a point, but much of her success in this adventure comes rather from persuasion, empathy and quick thinking, in circumstances where a false step could see her and all her friends sent to the guillotine.

As ever in Cogman's books, there is some sharp writing here, both to convey to us the reality of things from Eleanor's viewpoint and to keep the story moving. I especially enjoyed the way that Cogman will have her characters describe a plan, and then jump to the aftermath of its execution, giving the essence of the story without needing to repeat herself. She also often visualises opportunities, situations and schemes as fabrics to be worked rather than timelines, using needlework metaphors to show Eleanor grappling with the difficulties she's in. That's not something I'd come across before and it is a very effective and economical way to portray things.

So - if you loved Scarlet I think you'll love this even more, if you haven't read Scarlet, go and do that!

For more information about Elusive, see the publisher's website here, and of course the other stops on the blogtour, listed on the poster below.

You can buy Elusive from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

28 May 2024

#Review - Moon Road by Sarah Leipciger

Moon Road
Sarah Leipciger
Penguin (Doubleday), 16 May 2024
Available as: HB, 368pp, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(HB): 9780857526533

I'm grateful to the publisher for giving me access to an advance e-copy of Moon Road to consider for review.

Moon Road is a closely examined account of a grief suspended, diverted, and denied. But it also speaks of endurance and the  possibility of acceptance. It is a sad book, but shot through with hope - and is often very funny. 

Leipciger writes with great heart about the lives of Kathleen and Yannick, and of their daughter, Una. Kathleen and Yannick were married, until they weren't. Yannick marrying and re-marrying and fathering a sequence of kids, Kathleen remaining single. Yet they remained friends. Then, a dreadful thing happens, a thing they can't come together over. Hurt and grieving, they never meet again, not for 19 years, the book opening just as that period comes to an end. What follows is a rackety kind of reunion, a thing of probing and silences and anguish.

I should be clear that this is not always an easy read. We see in flashback the parents' responses to a catastrophe - responses that are, with hindsight, splitting them apart, and because these parts of the story are in flashback, we know there's no happy ending yet. So we see both of them adjusting to grief, perhaps feeling they are trying it on, expecting that normality will reappear, but we know - and they don't - that it's here to stay. It's a credit to Leipciger's writing that these parts of the story, which one might think would drag, sparkle, rather, as we come to appreciate the two awkward, perplexed characters and to understand them as more than containers for grief and hope.

In the present day of this book, Kathleen and Yannick are together again, kind of. Not romantically, but because they need to make a journey across Canada, thousands of miles, to Vancouver Island, where there may be news for them. They can't take a plane, because of Yannick's fear of flight. They can't shortcut through the US, because of his iffy history with the law. So they drive, a couple of septuagenarians, one (Kathleen) with a bad tooth, the other with a dodgy back, made worse by hours of immobility in the car.  Nights are spent in cheap motels, meals taken in diners or skipped. 

It's a road trip, kind of, visiting endless back-of-nowhere towns and the sights and experiences of the journey - from bullying truck drivers to a broken down VW camper (of course). Through this, the two bicker and freeze, melt and share memories, argue about the future and compare versions of the past. We see those lost moments, the ones where you had some perfectly ordinary interaction with another person, one you imagined would be only the latest iteration of a lifelong conversation but which will be the last you hear of them, the final word.

What did he mean by that? 

What if I'd said this instead? 

Why did she leave?

Endless possibilities for guilt and self-rebuke. Through it, Kathleen and Yannick come alive. At first, she's not likeable. Driven by a quest, determined that Una won't be forgotten, she treats others like walk-on actors in her own drama, almost deliberately neglecting herself and her own comfort too (that tooth). It's not that Kathleen sat down and gave up, rather the opposite, she started and runs a flourishing flower nursery after what happened, more that she cuts certain things and feelings out of her life and expects others too as well. Yannick wouldn't, so she cut him out too. On the surface, he's perhaps easier to like but that does unravel through the journey. Yannick is also stubborn and his procession of ex-wives and kids suggests a restlessness, an avoidance of facts.

Now, perhaps, Kathleen and Yannick have a chance to reconsider their choices, if they have the courage to do that. Leipciger works some magic with both, but especially, perhaps, with Kathleen so that by the end of the book I think we understand her much better. I found her - not likeable, exactly, but true, perhaps.

Throughout the novel we're also given glimpses of a young woman - 'our girl' - through a single day whose history will intertwine with the rest. Again, it's an account of a very ordinary day, really, a day that at countless points could have taken different turns. The ordinariness is seen through the lens of knowing that something happened, bringing certain moments into especial forces, as it were, and scattering little crumbs the we'll see the relevance of later. As a consequence, otherwise mundane events and feelings are made significant, their meaning open to interpretation.

The whole thing is a brilliant piece not writing and makes for absorbing reading. It's not a book to race through, there are episodes and threads which demand thought and parts that reward being revisited - my Kindle copy ended up dotted with bookmarks and searches as I went back and forward - but it is deeply rewarding and has remained with me.

For more information about Moon Road, see the publisher's website here.

22 May 2024

#Blogtour #Review - Toxic by Helga Flatland

Helga Flatland (trans Matt Bagguley)
Orenda Books, 23 May 2024 
Available as: PB, 263pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781916788138

I'm grateful to Orenda Books for sending me a copy of Toxic to consider for review, and to Anne for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.

Listen to the dance tune about the two brothers and the woman from Oslo...

If you're looking for multiple unreliable narrators, family tensions that fairly crackle off the page, obscure secrets and a sense of rural menace, then Toxic is just the book for you. If you don't think you're looking for those things, then I offer you Flatland's involving, complicity-inviting narrative which (in Matt Bagguley's excellent translation) lures in the reader, making them almost an accomplice to the moral gymnastics and self-justifications exhibited herein.

Take Mathilde, for example, a young supply teacher who's - let's use neutral language - entered a relationship with one of her pupils, 18 year old Jakob. The moral and ethical position here is clear, she was in a position of authority and she abused it, yet Flatland still gives us plenty of complexity as Mathilde takes most of the book to dodge any consequences and instead to give us her take on things. 

Or consider those two brothers. Andres and Johs, living on their remote farm far from Oslo. These are the days of Covid, and the progress of the pandemic - and the countermeasures for it - mark this book, phases of lockdown and social distancing disrupting everyone's life. (Although I have to say, the strictness of the measures taken in Norway never quite seems to match my recollection of the UK which felt like three years never leaving the house). The two are scrupulously observed, described through Johs's eyes, incidents of childhood painting the picture as we move to the present day where Andres stands to inherit, having acquired a late interest in farming, full of elaborate plans while Johns, the practical one, does most of the work. Meanwhile, their mother lurks, silently judging them every time they take an afternoon off. (The passive-aggressiveness of their mother, who will always, always sneak in and do a job before one of the boys can, is a joy in itself).

Mathilde's downfall precipitates a flight from Oslo to the country, where she rents an empty cottage on the brothers' farm. If Mathilde's background is complex (her parents dead in a car crash, she was brought up by her aunt, who she always refers to as 'Mum', and some of her most honest moments, the clearest revelations about her life and her - evidently complex, unresolved - relationship  with her birth mother seem to be when the two women share a cigarette) that of the brothers is even more so, both having grown up under the shadow of their grandfather, Johannes.  

Johannes emerges in recollection as a sneering bully, an abuser, a misogynist and a past master at coercive control. Also, a drunkard. He was, however, a superlative fiddle player and the identity of his remaining extended family seems bound up with that fact, with his place in the local culture such that no-one - either family or acquaintance - is willing to point up his faults. The book explores a curious dynamic in that local culture, introducing us to various popular ballads and dances, always with a narrative from Johannes at the start explaining where the music came from, what it's about. Inevitably the theme is proud, disruptive women who are punished for their transgressions in some way, blamed for whatever has gone wrong. This hint of folk horror, a sense of retribution imbued in the very landscape, lifts the setting above what could otherwise rather echo Cold Comfort Farm and gives the narrative a distinctly eerie, mournful cast. 

As Mathilde's behaviour spirals out of control (or is it?) we learn more and more about Johannes's outrages, and see the family's imprisonment (I don't think that's too strong a world) in the patterns of behaviour and the routines and casts of mind that he enforced. It makes for a volatile mix, one, as I said above, humming with tension. Yet it is all expressed and portrayed so coolly. Flatland's, and Bagguley's, language, is mild, focused on details, on characters whose minds wander, on the ordinary daily tasks of a farm. Also, perhaps, expressed in what we're not told, only given hints of.

The title of the story is I think well chosen - there is a sense of toxicity here, of taint, but it's hard to pin down. The frequent preoccupation with the virus, the handwashing, the scares and the distancing heighten this sense of contagion, but perhaps the characters here are missing the real source of danger, the thing that will really contaminate, will harm?

All in all, a marvellous, unnerving read, a book that simply creeps up on you, that gets under your skin and can't be picked out.

For more information about Toxic, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy Toxic from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

16 May 2024

#Review - Beyond the Light Horizon by Ken Macleod

Beyond the Light Horizon (Lightspeed Trilogy, 3)
Ken Macleod
Orbit, 16 May 2024
Available as: PB, 400pp audio, e   
Source: Advance e-copy
ISBN(PB): 9780356514826

I'm grateful to the publisher for giving me access to an advance e-copy of Beyond the Light Horizon to consider for review.

In a complex and satisfying conclusion to Macleod's Lightspeed trilogy, we see the consequences for Earth politics and development of the discovery of faster-than-light travel, and of planets inhabited by other species, become clear.

On a near future Earth, there are three main powers: the Union, a post-revolutionary society run as an "economic democracy" which has originated from the European Union, the Alliance, comprising much of the anglo world, and the Co-ord, bringing together authoritarian Russia and China. The focus is on the Union, which has just caught up with the (secret) FTL capability of the other two powers, and especially on John Grant, a somewhat restless and buccaneering member of the Revolutionary class known as the responsables. It was Grant who sponsored the creation of the Union's first FTL craft, opening a bewildering array of opportunities which he's determined to exploit.

Many of the possibilities flowing from that raise challenging ethical questions - I nearly typed "new" before that, but actually they're not - about the impact of settlement and colonisation on indigenous populations. The flora and fauna in the new planets being explored are so different that the humans are slow - perhaps deliberately slow - in identifying sentient life. They need a lot of help from Iskander, the AI that enables society in the Union, to do this and Iskander's role is, to my mind, somewhat ambiguous here. At least one player, Marcus Owen, the English robot agent, regards it as dangerous to humanity. Equally ambiguous is the alien race known as the Fermi. It may be planning to defend life on, for example, Apis but in the meantime a great deal of damage is being done.

I found it - what's the work - bracing? salutary? - how deftly Macleod portrays realistic outcomes from this situation. The Union is not, for example, a society of self-denying socialist co-operators, at least not until Iskander channels and directs their activity, so there is a very enthusiastic response to the call for colonisers and pioneers without a great deal of thought as to the consequences. Grant and his circle react in a similar way, at one stage proposing a somewhat hare-brained plan to introduce a sort of whaling industry on an untouched world.

Equally impressive is the sheer breadth of imagination shown here in the range of life and of planets supporting it, which all have complex and vibrant histories. Wise societies, some of them, which have accepted natural limits to expansion: restless ones, others, which want to press on and outwards. There is perhaps a bit of s sense of a whistlestop tour at times, because with so much in the background to this trilogy there isn't time to visit most of it. Characters and vessels come and go, trading patterns emerge rapidly and some of the individuals we have been following through the three books are perhaps slightly overshadowed by the pace and scale of events. That is, I think, inevitable and Macleod still manages to give everyone a satisfying resolution, aided in one or two cases by the judicious use of temporal paradoxes (although I lost sight of Owen in the end and couldn't help thinking he was off somewhere engaged in mischief).

Macleod's writing is always engaging, whether it's dropping references to other classic SF with similar themes, such as to 'intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic', to wider SF (a 'hero of the Revolution' who rather decries her public image as 'Red Sonia of [the] Rising', a mention of 'Union Space Marines') or nodding to the agenda of a left-wing meeting with its essential 'any other competent business'. The latter illustrates a distinct point about these books - their mental furniture steers clear of assumptions of a wholly capitalist future (without though adopting the Utopianism of Start Trek). The Lightspeed trilogy is rooted in a very different and distinct conception of future history, making the outworking of the story especially interesting and valuable to me.

All in all, a fitting end to this trilogy which has challenged, intrigued and instructed. Great fun, and never less than thought provoking.

For more information about Beyond the Light Horizon, see the publisher's website here.

14 May 2024

#Review - The House that Horror Built by Christina Henry

The House That Horror Built
Christina Henry
Titan Books, 14 May 2024
Available as: HB, 336pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance e-cop
ISBN(PB): 9781803364032

I'm grateful to Titan for giving me access to an advance e-copy of The House That Horror Built to consider for review.

Christina Henry's horror stories are always challenging and creepy, but in The House That Horror Built she's really surpassed herself. Explicitly addressing the conventions of the genre, this story also takes on issues of homelessness and economic precariousness ('resentment is a familiar meal when you can't afford contentment'), religious indoctrination and social privilege.

Harry, the lead character, is a single mother scraping a living in Chicago as the US comes out of covid lockdown. Hard up (she's a waitress and of course the restaurants are mostly closed) she's lucky enough - or so it seems - to get a cleaning job with reclusive and scandal-hit film director Javier Castillo. Through Christina Henry's portrayal, Harry emerges as resourceful, stretching her slender means beyond all reasonable expectations to support her son, Gabe (Gabriel) - juggling bills and supermarket coupons, always with an eye on what can be obtained cheaply.

Harry has been estranged from her Fundamentalist parents for decades (they were controlling and abusive - burning her stash of horror magazines was only the start) and the focus of her life is raising Gabe who's a star pupil but just entering those difficult teenage years. Gabe is delighted when Harry scores her new job with Javier, but as he moves further into the director's circles, Harry becomes concerned at events in Bright Horses House, Javier's isolated mansion...

I loved this book. The relationship between Harry and Gabe is wonderfully done. As a parent I can sympathise with the line Harry treads between protecting her son, sacrificing her time and attention for him, and the need not to control, to let him grow. I can also sympathise with Javier, who has his own parenting issues (his wife and son disappeared amid murky rumours of the Hollywood cover-up of a crime the boy may have committed). Harry and Gabe are horror addicts, and it was both scary and funny when they began to dissect events at Bright Horses House in the light of the grammar and conventions of the horror film. I always think horror is at its best when it is successfully self aware, as here, though this is a very difficult thing for authors to get right. To begin with they have to find a really convincing answer to that 'don't go near the old scary house' trope, because both readers and characters are fully aware of it. Here, Harry's poverty helps - but then the setting of the story in the margins of the film industry gives an added dimension to Harry's concerns over a particularly nasty prop.

It is a story that carefully builds and layers tension, as convention demands, but also, organically and credibly, given what's going on outside Bright Horses House. Harry's threatened with eviction, something that - given her shaky position on the bottom rung of society - is both all-consuming and impossible to deal with (when does she have the opportunity to house-hunt? How could she afford to move if she did). That adds a degree of menace as well as preventing her bailing out when things get weird. Sometimes horror doesn't 't mean bangs in the night and movement glimpsed out of the corner of an eye. The threat of ending up sleeping under a bridge or being followed by a creep because one can't afford the bus fare can be equally alarming.

Examining the stresses and guilt of parenthood, the story gives us three examples - Harry's strict parents, Javier's absent father, and Harry's and Gabe's (over?) close relationship. There are so many ways it can all go wrong, so many ways to lose one's kid and end up alone in a creepy old mansion...

In the end Henry gives us a spectacular climax that will leave you unable to put this story down until you reach the last page. It's a fitting ending to a magnificent story that sees her on top form.

For more information about The House That Horror Built , see the publisher's website here.

9 May 2024

#Blogtour - Thirty Days of Darkness by Jenny Lund Madsen

Thirty Days of Darkness
Jenny Lund Madsen (translated by Megan Turney)
Orenda Books, 9 May 2024, 
Available as: HB, PB, 321pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781914585623

I'm grateful to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me a copy of Thirty Days of Darkness to consider for review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the book's Random Things blogtour.

I was so much looking forward to this one - even just from the cover (yes, I know, you mustn't judge a book by its cover, but who doesn't...) which delivered one of my favourite visual tropes, a lit window at night. The synopsis entices too - a literary author taking up the challenge to write crime, travelling to a remote corner of Iceland to do it, and stumbling across the real thing...

Hannah, the litfic darling at the centre of this book, the Danish author of sparse and plotless high fiction, is that controversial thing, an unlikeable main character. Confessedly alcoholic, she seems to be going through "issues" most of which Jenny Lund Madsen keeps from us though boozy Hannah is clearly also suffering from writer's block and from envy of the massively successful crime star Jørn Jensen. It all comes to a head at a book fair when she starts throwing things at him. Only the intervention of her editor Bastian, who converts the spat into a publicity opportunity, saves the day - leaving her with that commitment to write a crime novel in 30 days. But anyone can do that, right?

I suspect many readers of this review (hi, both of you! Hope you're keeping well!) would sympathise with my view here that, no, we shouldn't be dissing anyone's choice of reading. So haughty Hannah is already edging into unlikeability even before she starts insulting her placid landlady (who's driven six hours to collect her from the airport). 

Yet there is something about Hannah. She has a fatal and almost endearing tendency to rush into actions and situations without thinking, resulting in either toe-curling embarrassment (as with Ella the landlady), or actual danger (once the killings begin, and Hannah decides to investigate - it's not clear whether that is more from simple morbid curiosity, or a need for inspiration, though the latter certainly features). Sometimes the result is both embarrassment and peril.

And actually, it's not as though Hannah does a great deal better when she does think it all through. The best you can say is that, perhaps, she doesn't follow through the most outlandish of her ideas. They do though give the book a bit of a comedic edge, and by the end you may have a bit of respect for the forbearance shown her by the people of Húsafjörður.

That comedy shouldn't though distract from a thread of genuine darkness that threads through the core of this book. The title may refer to the dark days of midwinter, but as Hannah comes closer and closer to the truth of the situation she will discover it in the people of Húsafjörður too and begin to suspect everyone of being part of it.

Thirty Days of Darkness didn't disappoint me. In Hannah, Jenny Lund Madsen has given us a vividly portrayed and complex character whom I hope to meet again. The book recognises the expectations that have been generated by the wave of Scandi-noir - both for its readers and for those who get caught up in the events described. Indeed, Jørn's comments about how a crime novel ought to be constructed address both, as the story Hannah is writing gets tangled up with the "actual" events in Húsafjörður. Another layer is added by Hannah's reading an ancient Icelandic saga which has things to say about honour, vengeance and power.

All in all, a distinctive novel that makes full use of Hannah as its protagonist to approach the crime genre from a new angle.

Also, great fun to read - Megan Turney's English translation has to cope with a myriad of challenges: Hannah and the people she meets are mainly communicating in English, their only common language, but not all of them are totally proficient and Ella, for example, tends to write rather than speak, with a lot of Icelandic left in. But the result is smooth and readable - while accented just enough for the reader to recognise the different voices and languages in use here.

I recommend you buy this one at once, it's even on the shelves in Sainsbury's so grab it while you can.

For more information about Thirty Days of Darkness, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy Thirty Days of Darkness from your local high street bookshop, in-store at Sainsbury's, or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

7 May 2024

#Blogtour #Review - Murder Under the Midnight Sun by Stella Blómkvist

Murder Under the Midnight Sun
Stella Blómkvist (trans Quentin Bates)
Corylus Books, 3 May 2024
Available as: PB, 285pp, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781739298944

I'm grateful to the publisher for sending me a copy of Murder Under the Midnight Sun to consider for review, and for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.

Before I start I would warn that there are some themes of male abuse and violence in Murder Under the Midnight Sun.

Welcome back Stella Blómkvist - meaning both the women of that name, the anonymous author, and the title character of this series.

I don't know anything about the former, but when we rejoin the latter, Stella the lawyer and sometime investigator of crime, she's enjoying life, taking part in a documentary series showcasing Iceland's most prominent women. This takes her up a glacier (a place she cheerfully admits, she's never been before and never will go to again) where a gruesome discovery awaits - Stella just can't keep away from mysteries, and indeed she's also just picked up a cold case. A Scottish woman disappeared in Iceland nine years before, and her uncle is desperate to find what happened to her before her mum dies. Stella's meticulous investigation of this missing girl nicely contrasts with another case which crops up, that of a man very much present and accused of murder. I enjoyed seeing how this latter enquiry - which closely engages the current generation of police and prosecutors, who therefore have a pretty solid motivation to oppose Stella - sets off the older one, where nobody seems to care much about anything...

...until Stella gets too close to a solution.

As I said, Stella's pretty busy in this one, yet she still has time for some romantic distractions. She also happily has fairly obliging childcare, so that odd nights spent in a hotel room don't seem to require much advance planning. That also of course helps greatly with the case, which requires her to visit some fairly remote parts of Iceland, often in the 'silver steed'. One of the things I enjoy about this series is the familiar atmosphere created by author and by translator Quentin Bates, letting us know immediately that we are in Stella's world. Her car is always the aforementioned 'silver steed', her favourite tipple (Jack Daniels) the 'Kentucky nectar'. There are several references to the state of the 'Stella fund', the murky set of investments that now seems to be doing pretty well thank you, after some concerns in the last book.

None of this would be enough to carry the story if it wasn't also pin sharp, complex and engaging, but of course it is. Without saying too much, events here take us into two quite different but equally dark aspects of Iceland's recent past. These will surprise the reader, showcasing the more sinister side, perhaps, of a country with a relatively small population where there are connections beneath the surface and people pop up over the decades in very different - and seemingly quite opposed - roles in public life. That can create tensions and give motivation for covering things up, something Stella spends a lot of time unpicking.

All in all, great fun, an involving story elegantly translated. 

I want more Stella!

For more information about Murder Under the Midnight Sun, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy Murder Under the Midnight Sun from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.