05/18/2024

Some Crim

Track the Untold Stories

Murder under the Midnight Sun by Stella Blómkvist trs Quentin Bates @CorylusB @StellaBlomkv @graskeggur @sh_ewa

Murder under the Midnight Sun by Stella Blómkvist trs Quentin Bates @CorylusB @StellaBlomkv @graskeggur @sh_ewa

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 May 2024 from Corylus Books
PP: 285
ISBN-13: 978-1739298944

My thanks to Corylus Books for an advance copy for review

What does a woman do when her husband’s charged with the frenzied killing of her father and her best friend? She calls in Stella Blomkvist to to investigate – however unwelcome the truth could turn out to be. Smart, ruthless and with a flexible moral code all of her own, razor-tongued lawyer Stella Blomkvist is also dealing with a desperate deathbed request to track down a young woman who vanished a decade ago. It looks like a dead end, but she agrees to pick up the stone-cold trail – and she never gives up, even if the police did a long time ago. Then there’s the mystery behind the arm that emerges from an ice cap, with a mysterious ruby ring on one frozen finger? How does this connect to another unexplained disappearance, and why were the police at the time so keen to write it off as a tragic accident? Brutal present-day crimes have their roots in the past that some people would prefer to stay forgotten. As Stella pieces together the fragments, is she getting too close to the truth and making herself a target for ruthless men determined to conceal secret sins?

A Stella Blómkvist mystery doesn’t hang out making you wonder where the plot is going. With Stella it is all action and pace and things move quickly, piece by piece revealing another fragment of the direction in which the plot is moving.   In Murder Under the Midnight Sun, there are many threads within a layered plot which Stella has to keep track of, leading to political intrigue, sloppy police work and murderous intent.

The first piece of the puzzle comes when a British businessman asks her to look into the disappearance 9 years ago of a young woman, Julia McKenzie, who had been travelling around Iceland on a motorbike, by herself. Julia was a Geology student and was planning to study volcanoes and hot springs, but after the first couple of weeks, she just disappeared. The police had no clues as to what happened and have concluded her disappearance must have been due to some kind of accident. Now Julia’s mother is dying of cancer and her brother, the businessman wants to fund one last shot at finding her. He has come to Blómkvist to ask her to take on the cold case. He makes a generous offer and though Stella can offer no hope, she is tenacious and she will give it her best shot.

She is also helping a friend and client who runs the influential News blog. Maki is under pressure to reveal his sources for a piece he has recently published alleging that an unnamed Icelandic Minister spied for a foreign country. He’s writing a book about this, but needs to protect his source. Stella agrees he can refer any libel claims relating to this to her.

Stella is being filmed by documentary maker, Rannveig for a TV series about smart Icelandic women. The shooting is taking place on a glacier, with fabulous views of the ice cap. In an attempt to carry off an atmospheric shot, showing her in an athletic light, Stella overturns her snowmobile in the fog and finds herself in a crevasse. What she finds there offers up a missing person mystery that she can’t let go of.

Then Rannveig’s father and a female companion are murdered and it is Rannveig’s husband, Markus who the police charge with their murder.

Now, Stella has a very full plate, since she agrees at Rannveig’s request, to represent Markus. Stella and the police do not see eye to eye on either case, however. Stella thinks, and not without cause, that the police dropped the ball when pursuing Julia McKenzie’s disappearance. She also not convinced that they have looked closely enough at motives for the couple’s murder. She’s constantly on the Police’s backs and they’re getting a little tired of it. Things are fractious and none of that is helped by a small niggle over the parentage of her only adored daughter, Soley Ardis.

Murder Under the Midnight Sun is a tense and rather dark mystery which delves into some of Iceland’s political history in a fascinating way. The spy elements of the story combine well with the missing person plotline and give the reader a lot to think about as Blómkvist pulls the threads together.

Then there’s the enigma of Stella Blómkvist herself. This is the second book featuring her as narrator of her own life and I really did not take to her as much this time. She’s clearly a good and loving mother, and a fine investigator, but other than that, she reads like an older man’s version of what a sexy lawyer should be like. She is beautiful, with a mane of blonde hair she loves to toss around. When looking for passion her underwear is a wispy, g-string in scarlet. She is bi-sexual and drives a Mercedes she refers to as her ‘steed’. She loves her Jack Daniels and plays the market astutely. She is also amoral and predatory, ready to pounce on a grieving woman just because she wants to.

No, I don’t see her as an endearing character, but she certainly gets the job done and so I am a grudging admirer of that side of her life.

Verdict: A well layered, complex story in which there are many threads to pull together. Stella Blómkvist is a thorn in the side of the Police and the establishment.  Written with pace this is a fascinating story of an uncompromising woman who is both lawyer and private investigator and who refuses to be bested.

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Stella Blómkvist has been a bestselling series in Iceland since the first book appeared in the 1990s and has attracted an international audience since the TV series starring Heiða Reed aired. The books have been published under a pseudonym that still hasn’t been cracked. The question of Stella Blómkvist’s identity is one that crops up regularly, but it looks like it’s going to remain a mystery…

Quentin Bates has personal and professional roots in Iceland that go very deep. He is an author of series of nine crime novels and novellas featuring the Reykjavik detective Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gísladóttir. In addition to his own fiction, he has translated many works of Iceland’s coolest writers into English, including books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Guðlaugur Arason, Einar Kárason, Óskar Guðmundsson, Sólveig Pálsdóttir, Jónína Leosdottir and Ragnar Jónasson. Quentin was instrumental in launching Iceland Noir in 2013, the crime fiction festival in Reykjavik.