“Feminine intuition is the smoke alarm of the soul”
I must confess that I feel a certain degree of weariness when it comes to fresh releases in the Nordic crime fiction (sub)genre, undoubtedly caused by the vast number of novels I’ve devoured during the last decade or so. However, the news that Corylus Books was about to publish the first installment in the highly popular in Iceland, Stella Blomkvist series caught my attention and rekindled my dormant appetite for criminal stories set in the northernmost European countries. This Icelandic saga that consists of 8 books so far has been inexplicably neglected by the English-speaking publishing world and that becomes even weirder if you know the mystery shimmering behind the true identity of the author. Stella Blomkvist is the pen name of an unknown individual who, until today, never revealed their self in public for reasons that remain obscure. There has been a great deal of speculation in Iceland regarding the possible identity of the author and, for a while, even the name of an ex- prime minister was considered as a possibility. Nevertheless, the enigma lives on and the only source of information regarding the evasive crime novelist is their own work.
It is through reading the novels written by Stella Blomkvist that we begin to infer potential character traits of their creator. For example, he/she seems to be privy of the machinations taking place in the corridors of power, political or otherwise. The books depict Iceland not as a tranquil little country in the north Atlantic with a population of about 350.000 people who lead an uneventful life, struggling to survive the harsh weather conditions. Blomkvist gives prominence to the real problems and challenges that the Icelanders have to face, from corruption in the public sphere to the rise of imported criminality from the Baltic countries and Russia. The reader who finishes reading Stella Blomkvist: Murder at the Residence will no doubt have to reassess his beliefs regarding the Land of Fire and Ice and eventually realize that the image of an unspoiled society is nothing more than a chimera. The protagonist, who shares the same name with the author, is a high-end lawyer with an uncanny ability to be equally assertive and influential among both the members of the Icelandic elite and the shady outcasts of Reykjavik’s underbelly. Stella seems to always know the right man or woman for each case she takes on and her fiery temperament gives her the courage to face even the most sinister of thighs and look them in the eye while talking to them.
Moreover, Stella’s ambiguous sexuality add to the mystery of her persona and her lustful outbreaks often lead her to the dark corners of the city in search of a sex mate for the night. It is while being in such a quest that she meets a young prostitute who tells her that she is worried over the disappearance of her colleague and close friend Ilona and asks for Stella’s help. The protagonist’s personal investigation into the matter inevitably forces her to talk to one of the most despicable criminals in town, the so-called Porno Valdi, the owner of several strip joints in the Icelandic capital. As Stella tries to trace Ilona’s whereabouts, another murder takes place that sends shockwaves to the whole nation. A well-known financier is found brutally murdered in the altar of a church, beaten to death. The victim’s name rings a bell as he has been involved in thorny cases during the collapse of the country’s economy that took place in 2008. The story is set, chronologically, a little after the catastrophic events that resulted in recession and pain for the Icelanders who saw their money evaporate from one minute to another. These two cases, Ilona’s and the financier’s, are the two main plot threads that propel the action, though there are several more subplots, including the deathbed confession of an old man who, at his dying breath, tells Stella something unthinkable and the arrest of a young Lithuanian drug mule to whom Stella provides legal support. All the different plot strands merge into one in the end and all the questions find their respective answers in a masterful manner, reminiscent of the works by the best Nordic crime authors.
If you find Stella’s character impossible to resist, you ought to check out the namesake TV series starring Heida Reed in the role of Stella. The show’s episodes are loosely based on the novels; however the characterization is spot-on as Reed proves that she was the optimal choice for this particular role. The monologues that we hear in voiceover ring so plausible to my ears after reading Stella Blomkvist: Murder at the Residence. It is like the screenwriter(s) have grasped the essence of Stella and effectively communicated it to the audience through the great dialogue, so true to the spirit of the original source. If you are a fan of Nordic crime fiction, then this title is simply unmissable. A big thanks the people working at Corylus Books who invited me to this blog tour.