The second volume in the Gunhilder Gisladottir series set in Iceland, this complex story focuses on the murder of an enterprising woman who has set up her own escort service, with a handful of wealthy men as her clients in a kind of time-share arrangement. The men have various positions that are all, one way or another, affected by the financial crash that has thoroughly shaken the small and highly independent island nation. Gunna also has to investigate the escape of a dangerous prisoner who is capable of significant violence. In addition to these two twisty plot lines, we follow the disintegrating life of a desperate man who has lost everything in the crash and who is building up to something dramatic.
On the negative side, I found the pacing uneven and the primary investigation both confusing and not terribly engaging. Though the murdered woman was in many ways emblematic of the changes in Iceland’s economy and culture, being a failed actress and fitness trainer – a far cry from the hardscrabble agriculture and fishing that once sustained Icelanders, with clients whose lives aren’t much more meaningful – I might have been more interested if I cared more about the victim or felt some suspense about the outcome.
On the positive side, the thread dealing with the escaped convict was more intriguing, but what I really found absorbing, and wanted more of, was the man at the end of his tether who we know is about to do something violent, and yet we come to care about him and his predicament.
As in the first book in the series, Gunna is both a smart detective and a winning character with enough of a home life that we get to know her well. The glimpses we get of Iceland’s burst bubble – tracts of outsized empty houses, underfunded social services, and families wrecked when they lost everything through no fault of their own – are compelling and sobering.
I’ll gladly try the next in this series, given its engaging heroine and interesting setting, but will cross my fingers for a brisker pace and a mystery that pulls me in.