Loner, original title Einfari, is a debut novel by Icelandic author Hildur Sif Thorarensen. Hildur Sif lives in Oslo where she currently studies medicine (having previously completed Master’s Degree in Software Engineering and Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science). Judging by her desire to learn and to experience more, it’s no surprise that in any spare moment she keeps writing. Hildur Sif first came to the crime fiction world’s notice when she appeared at the Iceland Noir festival in Reykjavik in 2016, where she made quite an impact during the New Blood Panel. She spoke of her interests, including vampires and of mixing her knowledge of life in Iceland and Norway, and other countries where she previously lived. Now the English version of her book Loner is available.
The start of the novel is shocking: a young Icelander, Geir, is found in Oslo, shot with an engraved arrow. Strange circumstances surround his death yet there are no witnesses, and nobody can say anything negative about the victim, a charming lothario who was on his way to a date with a girl he met online. Following the initial murder the discovery of a second body in the woods distracts the police and an investigation into this grotesque killing starts. It appears that the woman was killed elsewhere then brought to the forest and arranged on the ground in an unusual way; the body decapitated and a head placed away from it. Two further decapitated bodies appear within days. This macabre behaviour points the police to an old saying ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ which might be a motive but nothing is easy in this case.
The main team consists of the lead detective Julia Ryland, sensible and practical, and two experienced policemen. They are joined by Alexander Smith, criminal psychiatrist, quirky and not afraid of showing a variety of emotions. Alexander has arrived straight from the States where he cut his professional teeth and now he wants to be close to his Norwegian mother. He tries to fit in with Julia’s working methods but their personalities clash to very often comic effect. He’s also prone to drama and overreacting and seems to be heading for more confrontation in book number two. But for now he remains the focus of Loner.
Thorarensen’s contemporary, almost chatty style, mixes elements of religion and black magic, even a dhampir makes an appearance (half human, half vampire). Great characterisation and some snappy dialogues show author’s sense of humour and great skill at observing people and situations, while the exchanges between the two policeman Eric and Hercules add a touch of hilarity to the macabre. The darker side of her writing introduces Joseph Charles, an unsavoury person whose motives are initially difficult to understand. Together with his timid friend Thomas he walks the streets of Oslo and visits those who open doors to Jehovah Witnesses.
Loner – Oslo Mysteries could have benefited from a tighter plot as some intriguing issues are only mentioned in passing, for example Julia’s backstory. However, they might be explored further in the series. It would also be good to see the name of the translator included. This debut will appeal to those who like their Nordic Noir infused with a dose of humour and a vivid imagination.
Reviewed by guest blogger Ewa Sherman