Eva Björg Ægisdóttir is a young, talented and beautiful Icelandic crime fiction author and The Creak on the Stairs is her, truly promising, debut novel. She was born and raised in the small port town of Akranes in the west of Iceland, around 25 miles from the capital city of Reykjavik and this is also the town which features as a setting for her first book. Her sense and use of landscape are great, adding to the novel's overall gloomy mood, tone, and atmosphere. It. This is a rather generic Nordic noir crime/thriller that adopts many of the genre's trademark narrative techniques and tropes, though it does it in a way that engages the reader and keeps him turning the pages to find out what happens next. I greatly enjoyed the story and the plot, while I found that the characterization was truly terrific and reminiscent of that of some prominent Icelandic crime writers like Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Arnaldur Indridason, and Ragnar Jonasson.
The book's main protagonist is Chief Investigating Officer Elma who returns to her hometown of Akranes after the end of a long-lived romantic relationship with a man in Reykjavik. Elma is a woman of mystery and aspects of her past remain hidden from the reader and are revealed gradually as the story unravels. What is certain, is that Elma isn't particularly excited to return to Akranes and meet again her parents and there are many hints that her childhood has not been exactly happy. Soon after she moves into Akranes, a macabre discovery of the body of a dead woman near the lighthouse puzzles the small police department of the town and challenges Elma to find the culprit. In the course of the investigation, Elma will have to face people and memories that make her feel rather uncomfortable.
The Creak on the Stairs adopts the traditional dual narrative technique that is so often used by many of the Nordic noir authors. We watch the story unfolding in two different timelines, the present and the past (20-25 years before). In the former we witness the police investigating procedure that includes interrogations, footwork and evidence collection by the police officers while in the past we read about the childhood of the victim, Elisabet, and the events that shaped her personality. Elisabet has a sad and depressing history as she lost her father in a sea accident when she was little and afterward her mother began drinking and neglecting her only daughter, especially after the death of Elisabet's baby brother. Eva Björg Ægisdóttir handles very well the narration and the jumping back and forth in time which often confuses the reader is managed exceptionally. Another common Scandinavian narrative trope adopted is the multiple perspective narration that means that we witness the plot unfolding through the eyes of many characters, not just the protagonists. This fact results in a faster pace and if used correctly, as it is the case with this book, makes the story more vivid and easy-to-read. It should be mentioned that the main themes of the novel are truly disturbing as they include sexual abuse, bullying, and child molesting. So, be ready for some upsetting, or even painful, descriptions.
The plot of the book is not over-elaborate, nevertheless, it keeps the reader glued to his seat due to the author's exhilarating writing style that creates a terrific, claustrophobic atmosphere in the limited space of a small, secluded Icelandic town. The Creak on the Stairs is one of the best debut crime/thrillers originating from the Nordic countries in the last few years and it leaves the reader hungry for more. It seems that Iceland is an inexhaustible reservoir of adept, gifted crime authors and we should expect many more crime novels of a quality analogous to that of The Creak on the Stairs. It is a perfect choice for the dark days of the quarantine that we live in and it will make you forget anything that happens outside the book's universe for a few hours.