Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review: TRAP

TRAP by Lilja Sigurdardottir, tr: Quentin Bates (Orenda Books, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Happily settled in Florida, Sonja believes she’s finally escaped the trap set by unscrupulous drug lords. But when her son Tomas is taken, she’s back to square one … and Iceland.

Her lover, Agla, is awaiting sentencing for financial misconduct after the banking crash, and Sonja refuses to see her. And that’s not all … Agla owes money to some extremely powerful men, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it back.

With her former nemesis, customs officer Bragi, on her side, Sonja puts her own plan into motion, to bring down the drug barons and her scheming ex-husband, and get Tomas back safely. But things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and Sonja finds herself caught in the centre of a trap that will put all of their lives at risk…

There's plenty of talk about the 'Scandi Crime Wave' and 'Nordic Noir' as if it's some kind of homogeneous offering from the crime writers of that multinational region, when in truth there are plenty of differences in settings, styles, and stories told.

Icelandic author Lilja Sigurdardottir certainly underlines that: TRAP is the second in her Reykjavik Noir series and is an edgy tale of international drug running and financial shenanigans centred on a host of rather unlikable but fascinating characters with nary a pensive alcoholic copper in sight.

In a way, it's noir in its truer sense (rather than the mere synonym for crime & mystery storytelling which it's become in recent years) - many of the characters are a bit cynical or fatalistic, and there's plenty of moral ambiguity on offer all across the board. This draws the reader in with a sense of freshness and fascination, while at the same time creating a little buffer: at times I found myself admiring the storytelling more than being totally enveloped by it. Perhaps because I wasn't really rooting for any of the characters, rather just witnessing the traps set and all the carnage unfold.

But it is delicious carnage.

This is a pretty fast, slim read, but has lots going on. Slick, but with substance. It's really interesting to see a crime writer take on the high-level financial mismanagement and white collar crime that can infest nations and have huge effects but isn't paid as much heed as violent crime. Sigurdardottir delivers an interesting tale with great pace and plenty of tension, and some really memorable moments and characters. I closed the book thinking it would make for a great screen tale too.

While none of the characters are particularly heroic, there is a sense of understanding and some empathy with some of them: we can see how they got themselves into bad situations, and even if things began for selfish or less-than-honourable reasons, and much of the harm is self-inflicted, there's also a strong sense of humanity and the messiness of life, both professionally and personally.

A really interesting read from a talented storyteller. One that sticks with you.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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