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Noir set in ICELAND during the aftermath of the financial crisis

10th June 2024

Murder at the Residence by Stella Blómkvist, noir set in ICELAND during the aftermath of the financial crisis.

TR: Quentin Bates

Noir set in ICELAND during the aftermath of the financial crisis

Stella Blómkvist is an enigmatic author, who uses a pen name for anonymity and has never been identified. The protagonist in this series of books is also called Stella Blómkvist, which might prove confusing in this review! Murder at the Residence is the first book translated into English from a series that has been popular in Iceland for many years and made into several TV series. It’s a bit frustrating, not knowing whether Stella the character’s background and associations are more fully explained in these earlier books. Either way, she’s a quirky character and this is a quirky book. It has a host of characters and more than one sub-plot to keep you on your toes as you read.

The book’s setting in Iceland in 2009, during the aftermath of the country’s financial crash. Many of the characters are affected by this catastrophe, as were most Icelanders in reality. Some of the bankers, businessmen and politicians appear to have more on their conscience than just the financial woes of the country, however.

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Stella is a defence lawyer, aged 39. She’s mum to a small daughter she adores but also a wild party girl, into casual sex and fast cars. She’s also a victim of the banking crash and is keen to make money to top up her savings, which she refers to as ‘the Stella Fund’. Another character describes her, perhaps uncharitably, as “a foul-mouthed nymphomaniac who revels in the dregs of society.”

A Latvian stripper, Ilona, has gone missing, possibly kidnapped, and her friend asks Stella to find her. Stella makes use of her contacts (some possibly from previous cases?) to delve into the truth of the situation.

Meanwhile, Stella is determined to defend Robertas; a Lithuanian accused of being a drug mule.

Stella also takes an interest in the case of a drug-addicted young man who is the police’s only suspect in the murder of a banker. Stella is convinced of his innocence – and there are plenty of other possibilities, since a well-attended party was being held in the president’s residence right next door to the scene of the crime. But is Stella right? And can she prove it? Even she begins to have doubts.

In addition, a dying man asks her to find the daughter he believes is his but hasn’t seen for many years. The Scandinavian system of openness in public documentation lets her down and there seems to be no trace of the girl.

Murder at the Residence is a story of corruption and greed set at a time when Iceland was suffering financial ruin. It’s also a tale of guilt and vengeance. It’s a worthwhile read but don’t try to multi-task because it needs all your attention! I valued the history and folklore that the author has included, which will be of interest to anyone planning to travel to Iceland. I disliked some of the linguistic tics, such as preferring terms like ‘boys in black’. ‘blackbirds’ and ‘the city’s finest’ to ‘police officers’, and constantly referring to her car as the ‘silver steed’. Initially I felt that Stella wasn’t my favourite character ever, but I believe she will grow on me, as further books in the series are revealed.

Sue for the TripFiction Team

Catch our reviewer Sue on TwitterX @SueKelsoRyan and on IG @SueKelosRyan

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