Translated from Icelandic by Sylvia and Quentin Bates

2 years on and lockdown 2020 feels very surreal.. Did it really happen? Novels are appearing that were written and set during that time. While Deceit is the third I have read (Sarah Moss’s The Fell and Ali Smith’s Companion Piece being numbers 1 and 2), this is my first pandemic crime novel.

Iceland didn’t endure a draconian lockdown. Shops were open, people were asked to minimise social contacts, and to wear masks when they were out. For the most part people followed the rules. Transmission rates were low and fatalities minimal. At the same time Covid was rampaging its way through the UK. Statistics for both countries are given throughout the novel. A strange choice perhaps, but in April 2020, when the novel is set, I was only allowed out of the house to exercise one hour a day and could not meet anyone outside my household. These statistics and the behaviours of the novel’s characters demonstrate that Iceland was effectively a parallel universe. though there were strict quarantine rules.

Life in Rekjavik goes on, even as half the police force are in isolation. So when someone intent on doing harm to random strangers by inserting needles into everyday objects – pieces of fruit, toilet rolls for example – the detective, Soffia, finds herself assigned as a one woman team. Needing help, she turns to her psychologist ex-husband, Adam. And that’s where things get interesting.

For these two are hardly peas in a pod. Their attitude to the virus demonstrates that more than amply. Soffia is somewhat cavalier. Adam, British though now naturalised Icelandic, verges on the paranoid. (Something to do with the UK statistics probably.) He also has a secret, one which, while leading him into professional misconduct, helps him prevent a murder, tangentially related to the needles case.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Adam’s secret might well cause serious bother in future novels (assuming Deceit is the first in a series). Why? Because family secrets are at the heart of Deceit, and some of those secrets are downright awful.

I enjoyed the clever interweaving of two story arcs. I also appreciated the inclusion of other serious illnesses, cancer and Huntingdon’s Disease, as a reminder that other diseases have not disappeared. Leósdóttir’s characterisation and empathy are particularly strong. It does become hard to condemn the bad guys. Conversely, there are those who are reaping what they have sowed, There are many psychological issues and plenty of blurred (perhaps even pushed) boundaries in Deceit. What I found ironic was that at this year’s Bloody Scotland there was general consensus that killing the dog is taboo. What happens in the first crime novel I read after that? You guessed it. That taboo must be another British idiosyncrasy. (I hasten to add that the dog’s death is accidental.)

Deceit is first of Jónína Leósdóttir’s extensive oeuvre to be translated into English, and this post is part of the Corylus Books Blog Tour welcoming her to the Anglosphere.