Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir | translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates
Published by Orenda Books, 2018 (first published in 2015)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
In some instances, the gripping pace of a thriller can come at the expense of character depth. Not so in Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Snare. This excellent example of noir fiction takes us into the underbelly of Iceland, following a tangled web of brilliantly well-realised characters, each as complex and morally ambiguous as the next.
Sonja is struggling to make ends meet in the wake of a messy divorce which saw her lose custody of her young son. Drawn into a dangerous crowd, she now works as a drug smuggler, bringing cocaine into Iceland to raise the funds she needs to try and get her son back. Customs officer Bragi is growing increasingly suspicious of Sonja’s activities, the two quickly becoming involved in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse. But Bragi has problems of his own, with fears that his wife – who is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s – is being mistreated in her care home. Meanwhile, Sonja’s sort-of-girlfriend, Agla, is struggling to come to terms with their budding relationship and what it means for her sexuality. Working in banking, she is also undergoing investigation for misconduct in relation to the financial crisis that hit the country hard.
As you can glean from the above, there’s no shortage of exciting subplots to keep you hooked throughout the entire narrative. The various threads link together directly, but they are also connected thematically, with each character’s story looking at obsession and addiction in some shape or form. Though she struggles with the labels that come with a same-sex relationship, Agla can’t keep her distance from Sonja, and speaks of being literally addicted to her. Her reliance on alcohol also sits in interesting contrast with Sonja’s drug smuggling, which is undoubtedly fuelling the addictions of others. Bragi, meanwhile, could be described as being addicted to his job, the threat of retirement looming uncomfortably close. The case he’s drawn into will force him to question just how far his loyalty can be pushed. With no one wholly good or bad, the author urges us to question where we draw the line on the issue of justice, and if there’s ever a valid reason for good people to do bad things.
The backdrop of the financial crash, and the Icelandic streets dusted with volcanic ash from the famous eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, help to add a certain grittiness, whilst also setting the story firmly in a specific time and place. Solid writing, great pacing, and seamless translation saw me fly through Snare. Page-turning tension and emotional complexity elevated what could have been a non-descript crime flick into something decidedly more nuanced. It could easily be enjoyed as a standalone, but it is technically the first in a trilogy. My eagerness to see where the author takes these characters next despite how rarely I reach for a multi-book series speaks volumes in itself.
If you’d like to give Snare a go, you can pick up a copy from Book Depository with free shipping by clicking here. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!