Murder Under the Midnight Sun by Stella Blómkvist Review

A fast-paced Icelandic noir whodunit for fans of eccentric and rebellious female protagonists. 

With the wild beauty of Iceland’s epic vistas as its backdrop, Murder Under the Midnight Sun by Stella Blómkvist follows sassy, take no prisoners, Reykjavík attorney Stella Blómkvist on a journey to uncover the secrets behind a smorgasbord of different investigations. 

The book opens with a lunch meeting between wealthy British businessman Gregory George MacKenzie and Stella Blómkvist in a toney Reykjavík hotel restaurant. He hires Stella to investigate the disappearance of his niece Julia, who went missing in Iceland at age twenty without a trace nine years before. An Icelandic police investigation had yielded no results. MacKenzie explains Julia’s mother, his sister, diagnosed with terminal cancer, desperately wants to know what happened to her daughter before she dies.

After warning him that many people had gone missing without a trace in remote places in sparsely populated Iceland and that she can’t promise any results, Stella accepts the case. But she barely gets started with it before she gets two additional cases. One is defending Máki, who runs a news blog aimed at exposing both new and old secrets of the ruling class who has run afoul of the establishment and is facing a libel suit and arrest. The other is defending a man arrested and accused of murdering his father-in-law and mistress. Along the way, Stella, who has a penchant for engaging in all manner of risky behavior, puts her own life in peril on multiple occasions. 

To clear up any confusion for those who may wonder why the author and the protagonist of the novel have the same name, a word of explanation is in order. Stella Blómkvist has been a bestselling series in Iceland since the first book appeared there in the 1990s. The author writes under a pseudonym and has remained anonymous for twenty-five years despite plenty of speculation about who she or he might be. The series has attracted recent international attention since a television series based on the books began airing and the books were first translated from Icelandic beginning with Murder at the Residence (2023). 

Stella Blómkvist didn’t arrive on my radar through the television series. I read an interview with Quentin Bates, who translates the books from Icelandic after the release of Murder Under the Midnight Sun, that piqued my interest. That explains why I read this book first before Murder at the Residence. As a longtime fan of Scandi Noir, especially books written by Icelandic authors, I’ve learned you can never go wrong reading a novel translated by the incomparable Quentin Bates. And I wasn’t wrong about this one. 

No matter the identity of the anonymous author, they know their stuff in plotting an absorbing hard boiled crime novel. The writing is crisp and to the point with no wasted effort. While the search for what happened to Julia MacKenzie packed plenty of punch on its own, happily Stella Blómkvist didn’t stop there. The other cases on offer add appreciated depth and breadth to the story. The reader gets wrapped up quickly in the somewhat chaotic but entertaining plot. I sailed through the book in one sitting, unwilling to put it down. 

Forty-one-year-old attorney and single mother, Stella Blómkvist, dotes on her four-year-old daughter, Sóley Árdís Blómkvist. Her relationship with her daughter helps us see Stella’s softer side. Besides being a brash yet cunning lawyer and investigator, we also learn much about the sexual side of Stella who is just as happy to seduce and have sex with an attractive woman as an attractive man and she makes her sexual overtures quite aggressively. She admits most of her past romantic relationships were short-lived.

If Stella were a male character, I think many readers might consider her somewhat predatory. While her sexual conquests in this novel are limited to women, she doesn’t come across as a lesbian but simply a woman for whom gender is no barrier when she encounters someone that she finds attractive and wants to have sex with. There are ample hints she has enjoyed past trysts with men as well. Another interesting aspect of Stella is that she seems to have suffered a traumatic childhood at the hands of her father, although we only get a few brief glimpses into what that entailed exactly. Perhaps this has a good deal to do with the adult woman she became. Finally, Stella is something of an anarchist with little use for government inefficiencies, especially with the police. In one scene, another character accuses her of being an anarchist and she doesn’t take exception to the characterization, much less deny it. 

Stella Blómkvist is a strong, independent female protagonist who is a bit of a brash, eccentric character, but her foibles don’t fall into any of the predictable mystery trope categories, and she is an appealing character. Perhaps because the story centers on the female perspective, the male characters, with the exceptions of the journalist, Máki, and Stella’s cousin Sissi, aren’t too well developed and most get portrayed as bumbling, lacking in intelligence, weak, or morally bankrupt. Male representation aside, this is a fun read and will deliver what fans of the classic Scandi noir genre look forward to in a fast-paced, twisty mystery thriller.

Corylus Books published the English version of Murder Under the Midnight Sun on May 3, 2024. This review represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★

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