Book Review: Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir—Intricate plotting explores the deeper psychological dimensions of good and evil.

Girls Who Lie

by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

Translator Victoria Cribb

Published by Orenda Books

from May 22, 2021

Genre(s): Police Procedural, Nordic (Icelandic) Noir, International Crime Fiction

ISBN‎ 978-1-913-19373-7

348 pages

This second installment of Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s Forbidden Iceland series examines dysfunctional family connections, and features toxic mother-daughter relationships that lead to murder as we meet girls who lie.

It occurred to me as I read this novel, something I like best about Ægisdóttir’s books is they are as much about human nature—the best of it and the worst of it—as about the solving of crimes. It’s this insight into human behavior that makes her books such addictive reads.

When a depressed, alcoholic single mother disappears, everything suggests suicide, but when her body is found, Icelandic Detective Elma and her team are thrust into a perplexing, chilling investigation.

When single mother Maríanna disappears from her home, leaving an apologetic note on the kitchen table, everyone assumes that she’s taken her own life … until her body is found on the Grábrók lava fields seven months later, clearly the victim of murder. Her neglected fifteen-year-old daughter Hekla has been placed in foster care, but is her perfect new life hiding something sinister?

Fifteen years earlier, a desperate new mother lies in a maternity ward, unable to look at her own child, the start of an odd and broken relationship that leads to a shocking tragedy.

Police officer Elma and her colleagues take on the case, which becomes increasingly complex, as the number of suspects grows and new light is shed on Maríanna’s past – and the childhood of a girl who never was like the others…

Breathtakingly chilling and tantalisingly twisty, Girls Who Lie is at once a startling, tense psychological thriller and a sophisticated police procedural, marking Eva Björg Ægisdottir as one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.

I’ve been a fan of Icelandic novelist Eva Björg Ægisdóttir since reading her tantalizingly twisty debut novel, The Creak on the Stairs, which I very much enjoyed. Her latest, Girls Who Lie, is an intriguing read that unfolds in many time frames and from several points of view. Ægisdóttir effectively pulls this off through the use of short introductory sections that precede almost every chapter. They seem almost like prologues and give the reader flashbacks information that compliments the progression of the story, chapter by chapter. These sections are set off from the chapters themselves with italicized print. The narrator isn’t identified, but seems the same person each time. Sill, we can’t be sure since we don’t learn the person’s identity until near the very end.

After the brief chapter introductions, the book then reenters the present and follows an investigation that begins after two young boys staying in a nearby summer house with their parents find a woman’s body inside a cave in the Grábrók lava fields. It’s obvious she’s been there for some time. The authorities suspect the dead woman is a single mother named Maríanna who disappeared seven months previously after leaving an apologetic note for her daughter. Everyone assumes she took her own life. But once the forensics team and pathologist arrive, they determine someone murdered the woman who they identify as Maríanna.

Elma, an Akranes police detective, and her colleague Sævar get to work on the investigation. The police had investigated Maríanna’s disappearance seven months earlier, but since they believed she had disappeared voluntarily, they had put little effort into it. So, Elma and Sævar must again cover much old ground in order to find their footing before pushing the investigation forward.

Elma is a realistic and likeable main character. She is still adjusting to life in her hometown after recently moving back from Reykjavik and still coming to grips with the death of her former partner who took his own life. But she is now looking toward her future and deciding what she wants from it. She is involved romantically with her neighbor across the hall, but only in a casual sense. It’s clear she feels an attraction to her colleague, Sævar, and he seems to reciprocate. But Elma fears taking the relationship beyond friendship could make things awkward if it didn’t work out since they work together.

As much as I liked the debut novel in this series, I liked this one more. It seemed the plotting was more imaginative, the characters richer, and the pacing stronger. There was also more psychological depth as all sorts of mother-daughter implications manifest themselves and play out. As with the first book, there were plenty of tantalizing twists to keep the reader guessing and the pages turning. Also, there were more than a few surprises, especially near the end.

Even though the outcome of the investigation felt a little unsatisfactory in a justice-not-truly-served kind of way, I enjoyed how the book ended on a happy note. That left me eager to read the next novel in the series to see how Ægisdóttir builds on the ending to continue Elma’s character arc. Girls Who Lie is quality writing and an excellent read and further evidence of why Icelandic crime fiction continues to grow in popularity in international markets.

Orenda Books published Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir from May 22, 2021. I purchased the copy of the book used for this review, representing my honest opinions.

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