I was very happy to be invited to join this blog tour, and am very pleased to be able to say that it has added to my aim this year of reading more non-UK based crime.
The Commandments – The Blurb
Former police officer Salka Steinsdóttir finds herself pitched into the toughest investigation of her life, just as she is back in the tranquil north of Iceland to recover from a personal trauma.
The victim is someone she had pursued earlier in her career – and had never been able to pin down. Now a killer has taken the law into their own hands and meted out brutal retribution for ancient crimes. Salka is faced with tracking down the murderer of a stalwart of the church and the community, a man whose dark reputation stretches deep into the past, and even into the police team tasked with solving the case.
As the killer prepares to strike again, Salka and her team search for the band of old friends who could be either killers or victims – or both.
A bestseller in Iceland, The Commandments asks many challenging questions as it takes on highly emotive and controversial issues.
Written by Óskar Guðmundsson and translated by Quentin Bates, this is a story that draws the reader in from the start. We first see the setup of the situation in 1995, it is not pleasant, and the indications are clear from the off. Then we jump to 2014 and then the real action begins. Headlines in the paper that state: “Church covers up child abuse victims tell all” really sets the scene for what’s going to happen through the book. This story deals with grooming and corruption on many levels and how powerful men will cover up for others, until the victims are left powerless and unbelieved.
The writing in this book, the plot and subplots, flow naturally and well, there isn’t a wasted scene. There is plenty of misdirection and hints at a great many things, some of which turn out to be real and some don’t. As a reader you don’t really know which are which until the end, which is great because it keeps you guessing and reading.
All the characters are really well-drawn, they feel like real people with real lives, another huge positive. The investigator, Salka is an interesting character, a lost and lonely woman with a past, and real potential for the future – assuming she doesn’t blow it. Her reality only truly reveals itself on the very last page and it is a surprise, but it also explains so much about the way she is as a woman and as a police officer.
The final resolution is two-fold, the first revelation surprised me, which it probably shouldn’t have done. The second didn’t, though it probably should have. I like that I was surprised, it means I was kept guessing till the end and a good crime novel should do that.
The thing that tripped me up through the book was the names. Obviously, they are Icelandic and most of them were no problem at all, the people (except one) were easily nameable, and I think I’d make a good attempt at pronunciation – but I’ve no idea how to say many of the mentioned places. Reykjavik, Grenvik, those were fine, but in my head, the others slowed me right down and I had to really think to read them syllable but syllable, which in turn threw me out of the rhythm of the story. This is most definitely an issue with me and not with the book, I’m reporting this as my reader experience not criticising the book.
The subject matter of this book is a tough one and I think that it was handled with care and sensitivity. However, the nature of the subject did make for a tough emotional read at times. It makes the reader stop and think, which again a good book should.
I can easily see why this book will get a great many 5* reviews however, I’m giving it 4*. The reason for this is that it didn’t have that undefinable quality that meant I just had to keep reading – don’t get me wrong once I was reading it, I loved it, it really is well written/translated. But there were several times when I thought, oh I could sit and read now, that the idea of reading this particular book meant I didn’t. This is clearly much more of a me issue than an issue with the book, so other readers shouldn’t necessarily be put off by my assessment. In reviewing I have to be totally honest, and the stop-the-world-I-have-to-read-this-now factor was missing for me.
I really do think that a great many crime readers will absolutely love this book, and I would highly recommend it.
About the Author and Translator
One of the rising stars of Icelandic crime fiction, Óskar Guðmundsson has been writing since he was a youngster, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that his novel Hilma was published – and was an immediate success, winning the Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic crime novel of 2015. This was followed by a sequel, Blood Angels, in 2018.
The first of his books to be published in an English translation, The Commandments is a standalone novel which appeared in Iceland in 2019. All of Óskar’s books have been bestsellers and rewarded with outstanding reviews. The TV rights to Hilma have been acquired by Sagafilm.
His latest book is The Dancer, which has been published simultaneously as an ebook, audiobook and paperback – accompanied by an original song in which Óskar’s words have been put to music featuring some of Iceland’s leading musicians.
Óskar’s talents don’t end there, as he’s also an artist and has held a number of exhibitions of his work.
Óskar Guðmundsson is the kick-ass breath of fresh air that Icelandic crime fiction has been waiting for
Quentin’s roots in Iceland go very deep. In addition to writing fiction of his own, he has translated into English books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Sólveig Pálsdóttir, Guðlaugur Arason, Einar Kárason, Ragnar Jónasson and others. One of the original founders of IcelandNoir crime fiction festival in Reykjavik.