NORDIC BOOK REVIEWS: ‘You Can’t See Me’ and ‘Reykjavik’

Our new resident Nordic literature-loving writer, Glen, shares his views on some Nordic books recently released from Iceland.

You Can’t See Me by Eva Björg Ægisdottir


A genealogy chart appears at the beginning of You Can’t See Me by Eva Björg Ægisdottir, but this is more than just a family tree; it is an entire dark, twisted forest of repressed family secrets.

When you are one of Iceland’s wealthiest and, in the age of social media, one of the most visible dynasties, whose every move and latest selfie extolling a lavish lifestyle is consumed by thousands of strangers, family conflict must be kept hidden. The perfect united family is a powerful brand. It is not only lava that is bubbling beneath the surface as the extended Snaeberg family gathers for a reunion in a luxury hotel surrounded by the volcanic fields of a remote Icelandic peninsula.

As the book opens, an unnamed woman is seen fleeing a luxury hotel in the wee hours of the morning, battling the chills of the Icelandic winter, with her footsteps barely visible in the snow behind her.

Despite the vastness of the landscape, the opening is claustrophobic and, after a body is discovered three chapters later, the tone becomes much darker. The identity of this victim, like that of the unidentified woman, is not revealed until the final pages of the book.

Instead, we are taken back and forth across a fateful weekend at the luxury hotel, with five first-person narrators describing the events. From the hotel waitress, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the famous family, to the famous interior designer and her social media-obsessed teenage daughter, to the boyfriend of the interior designer’s aunt, to the police inspector tasked with determining exactly what happened and by whom, each voice gradually reveals more of this complex picture.

This intricately plotted novel by Ægisdottir leaves readers wondering not only who committed the crime, but also, intriguingly, what the crime was and who the victim is.

As the plot travels back and forth over the weekend, each new voice adds additional layers of complexity. Just when the reader believes he or she knows who the victim is and why they met their end, the narrative takes an unexpected turn. What is impressive about the work, however, is that in addition to being compelled to turn the pages to solve the mystery, we are also captivated by the domestic and deeply human story of family conflict. The central characters may, on the surface, appear to live perfect lives as they bask in their wealth but, like many families, there are unspoken conflicts and pain, hidden secrets, and rivalries that could serve as the basis for a compelling soap opera.

The characters created by Ægisdottir are well-developed, their interactions are well-thought-out, and the challenges they face, despite being heightened in this setting, are all too familiar. While the trope of a secluded hotel in the depths of winter has been a favourite of authors such as Agatha Christie, Ægisdottir’s You Can’t See Me is a fresh and lively take on the genre.

While technically a prequel to the wildly popular Forbidden Iceland series, You Can’t See Me also works as a compelling standalone novel that examines the darker side of familial interaction. A book written by a master storyteller that will keep the reader guessing until the very last page.   You Can’t See Me was published on 6 July 2023 by Orenda Books.

Reykjavk by Ragnar Jónasson & Katrin Jakobsdóttir


Reykjavik, a novel written by two authors, is appropriately set in two locations: Iceland’s capital city, as the title suggests, and Videy, a small island just across the bay from the city that is perhaps best known today as the location of the Imagine Peace Tower, a memorial to John Lennon.

It is a dual author, dual location, and dual period novel. In 1956, when a young girl vanishes from Videy without a trace, police investigations are fruitless. Lara, a 15-year-old domestic worker, is assumed to have packed her bags and returned to the mainland for unknown reasons. When she fails to make her weekly phone call to her parents, alarm bells begin to ring. Despite the small size of the island, there is no trace of the young woman, and the case eventually fades from memory, despite intense public interest.

Thirty years later, as the nation’s capital prepares to celebrate its bicentennial, a reporter is reviewing the case, interviewing those involved, and attempting to shed new light on what has been one of the country’s biggest unsolved mysteries.

As Valur, the young reporter, investigates the unsolved case, he finds himself drawn deeper into the mystery surrounding the missing girl, as well as the intricate, intertwined relationships in a community where virtually everyone knows one another. We are drawn into a complex web of intersecting narrative arcs as the past and present collide with shockwaves reverberating across three decades.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” said L.P. Hartley in The Go Between. In Reykjavik, authors Ragnar Jónasson and Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir paint an evocative picture of how society and social norms have changed, not just from 1956 but from the ‘modern’ 1986 of the book, itself now over 30 years ago.

Reykjavik was on the cusp of change in 1986, a time when beer was still banned but non-alcoholic beer with a shot of vodka was permitted, when the nation eagerly awaited the launch of a new independent radio and television service, when radio phone-ins to that new radio station caused phone networks to crash, and when Regan and Gorbachev were scheduled to meet in the city to discuss disarmament.  

Jónasson and Jakobsdóttir depict this changing society so vividly that the city itself becomes a character. There is a genuine sense of community in this work, with characters’ lives and positions in society clearly described. The changes in family life, societal norms, and even day-to-day practicalities (this was still a time when everyone could be found in a phone book) since 1986, let alone 1956, are striking.

This is a whodunit in the vein of Agatha Christie, whose name appears in the novel. Not surprising given Jónasson ‘s background in translating the Queen of Crime; however, while there are still the necessary plot twists and surprises to keep readers turning the pages, the crime itself is somewhat secondary to the relationships and study of people and place that Jónasson and Jakobsdóttir offer.

The shifting timeframes and large cast of 27 characters require some effort on the part of the reader, but they are rewarded with a cleverly detailed depiction of Icelandic life and enough red herrings to confuse even the most avid amateur sleuth.  With such a large cast of characters, there may not be as strong a central character as in other crime novels, but these characters are so well-developed that the novel becomes a true ensemble piece. This may be the first time Jónasson and Jakobsdóttir have collaborated, but it is evident that they work well together and could become a new dynasty on the Nordic Noir scene.        

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