Book Review: White as Snow, Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Book Review: White as SnowAn Áróra Investigation Book 3, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, translated by Quentin Bates

white as snow

Mystery: White as SnowAn Áróra Investigation Book 3, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, translated by Quentin Bates


There is something appropriate about reading this book on a cold October day near Halloween. No snow here, yet, but the forecast is warning of some just a few miles to our north. The book itself takes place in winter, near Reykjavik, but the plot is more chilling than even a Nordic winter, and creepier than any Halloween costume. What’s sad is that the phrase, “ripped from the headlines” could apply to this book.


A shipping container left on the sands of a beach on a cold winter’s day holds a gruesome secret. Four women lie dead in the container. A fifth woman is frostbitten and hypothermic, but has somehow survived the ordeal. Police immediately suspect human trafficking is the cause of these deaths, but don’t initially have much to go on to find the people who did this.


Meanwhile, Daniel’s ex-wife Elin calls on Áróra to look into the accounts of her current boyfriend. She and Danel remain good friends, so Daniel suggests she speak with Áróra, who is an outstanding private investigator. Sergei is loving and attentive, but Elin suspects that he is also seeing someone else while living with her and urging her to marry him.


Both of these plotlines are woven together, along with the survivor’s memories of her horrifying experience. It is not an “easy” read, but it is worth the investment. This may be a work of fiction, but there are too many women enslaved and prostituted, promised an education or a career, threatened with the deaths of those they love, all for the savage use of vile men. There are some who voluntarily enter sex work and who do make it their career. There are many, many more who depend on it to feed an addiction, to scrape together a living, to satisfy a controlling or coercive pimp (or madam), or who are tricked into it by stone-hearted human traffickers.


I would love to think we could have a world where a story like this would be impossible to imagine. We don’t. We won’t. Hercules may slice off one head of the Hydra, but two more spring up to fill the space. I have a friend who was a cop for 20 years, many of them as a detective. As gruesome and heartrending as the novel is, the reality he saw during those years was equally gruesome and heartrending. 


I would be doing the novel a disservice if my only reaction was to the plot itself. How Lilja Sigurðardóttir reveals the plot piece by piece is smart and compelling. There were twists and turns throughout, the dialogue (both between characters and within their own minds) was sharp. The complexities of love show throughout the book–forbidden love, secret love, growing love, obsessive love. Some of the characters struggle with romance. Others struggle with themselves. All of them, though, are fleshed out as complex and realistic people. Beside the protagonists, I find Daniel’s partner Helena more enjoyable from one book to the next. And the survivor from the container, Bisi, is amazing! 


I would again be remiss if I failed to thank Quentin Bates for his excellent work translating for Ms.Sigurðardóttir. Their teamwork is extraordinary. I am unable to appreciate the power of her writing in her native Icelandic, but it shines through in the translation. It is quite possible to do a tepid translation, focusing on the words rather than on the story. Bates explains truths that are apparent to Icelanders but not as apparent to most English-speakers, includes cultural bon mots like a choice of local snack foods including sheep’s head, and does so without reveling in the details that foreign readers might find distracting–like what precisely a sheep’s head snack entails.


Our thanks to the incomparable Anne Cater of Random Things for our copy of White as Snow, provided so we could honestly review it as part of this tour. The opinions here are solely those of Scintilla. For other perspectives on this book, check out the other bloggers on this tour.


white as snow

Book Review: White as SnowAn Áróra Investigation Book 3, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, translated by Quentin Bates

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