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NORDIC BOOK REVIEWS: ‘White As Snow’ and ‘The Beaver Theory’

Our resident Nordic book worm has gnawed his way through two new novels and share his thoughts below on them in our Nordic Book Reviews feature.

White As Snow by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

With human trafficking in the news all the time, Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s White As Snow, the third instalment of her Áróra series, is both current and terrifying.

As the story begins, we discover an abandoned shipping container in Iceland’s cold terrain containing the bodies of five women. The sight of the victims stacked up makes even experienced police investigator Daniel Hansson wonder if this is an inquiry he can lead.

The detective’s eagerness to solve the crime, along with his pent-up rage and revulsion at the act, pushes Hansson to the limit of his professional integrity.

At home, Hansson’s mind is also occupied by his ex-wife’s request that he checks out her new fiancé, a man who appears to be in a rush to marry and whose strange phone conversations in his native Russian, which he claims are to his ageing mother, are getting increasingly suspect. As investigator Áróra, searching for her missing sister, becomes entangled in the hunt for the identity of the mysterious Russian, a complicated network of investigations begins to intersect.

Sigurðardóttir doesn’t hold back in exposing the terrifying facts of human trafficking; the detail of which leads these folk to trust these shady people smugglers is presented in brutal honesty. The anxiety, despair, and sheer risk of entrusting themselves to individuals who only perceive them as a source of income is as stark as the chilly Icelandic setting these wretched people find themselves in in White As Snow.

The reader could easily become overwhelmed, but Sigurðardóttir balances the harsh realities of the investigations with lighter touches as we delve deeper into Hansson and Áróra’s domestic lives, building on the work of the previous two novels, Cold As Hell and Red As Blood. While this is a continuation of the series, and one that fans of Áróra will like, it is easy to read this as a stand-alone novel without feeling lost.

Landscape and the weather appear as additional players in the tale here, as seems to be a signature of Icelandic Noir, and the chill of an Icelandic winter only contributes to the ambience of the horrific events happening on the page. Tension builds from the start, both in the investigations and the personal relationships between the protagonists, and Sigurðardóttir draws the character so richly that it’s impossible not to keep turning the page to find out what happens next, negotiating the necessary twists that any good noir novel delivers.

Although the title suggests a story of innocence and purity, Sigurðardóttir shows us a far darker side of humanity in this emotive and cleverly constructed novel.

The Beaver Theory by Antti Tuomainen

When it comes to subject matter for a popular thriller series, fiction books based on a Finnish insurance mathematician are not the first genre that comes to mind, but Antti Tuomainen’s award-winning Rabbit Factor trilogy have broken the stereotype.

The Beaver Trilogy, the triptych’s conclusion, finds unlikely hero Henri Koskinen in love and on the verge of swapping his life of order and routine for the position of family man and stepfather.

But, as readers of The Rabbit Factor and The Moose Paradox have come to expect, Henri’s life will be filled with more ups and downs than the rides of the amusement park he surprisingly inherited from his brother back in book one.

It doesn’t take long for a body to materialise on the scene, and Henri is named as a key suspect in the crime. As our risk-averse theme park owner defies convention and goes on a perilous investigation, we are taken on a wild ride told by someone who sees the world in quite different ways than most of us.

Tuomainen’s work, as brought to an English audience by David Hackston’s vivid translation, is full of the series’ trademark dry humour and wit. However, in many ways, this is a more ‘grown up’ work than its two predecessors, with our protagonist developing and growing into a more rounded individual.

Henri may spend much of the three-book story arc wondering where his path is going and why his meticulously planned life is gradually unravelling. However, his self-doubt makes him human and accessible to the reader. The world he finds himself in is surreal, yet beneath the madness of amusement parks, murders, and madcap mayhem is a deeply emotional authentic journey.

Tuomainen’s prose has a filmic feel, so it’s no surprise that Amazon Studies is working on a cinematic adaptation of The Rabbit Factor.  There’s plenty of material for Amazon to see the making of a franchise with The Beaver Theory offering a thrilling and gratifying end to the series.

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