Review - ON A SMALL ISLAND, Grant Nicol

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

A New Zealand born, Australian and Northern Ireland dwelling, now Iceland based author has written a book set in his adopted city of Reykjavík, with a central female character whose life is turned upside down in a very short space of time, that really works. Read ON A SMALL ISLAND so you can tick one off from your most unlikely working scenario list or simply read it because this is a really good book.

Ylfa Einarsdóttir has a relatively predictable, quiet life in downtown Reykjavík, even allowing for the friction between her elderly, grumpy farm dwelling father and her two sisters. The elder sister, always a bit of a handful, dramatically and suddenly announces that she's getting out of Iceland and she's going to blackmail her married lover for the cash to facilitate this move. Then she disappears. Her father's companion and worker, and one of their beloved horses on the farm are murdered one night - in full view of the old man, and the only connection between these things seems to be a series of cryptic Biblical messages left at the various scenes of the crime. Somehow the police seem to either be very slow off the mark, or somewhat underwhelmed by the possibility of connections between these two events, and an odd burglary, but obviously something is swirling around Ylfa's father and it's not going to end well.

Telling this story totally from Ylfa's viewpoint, creates a strong sense of urgency, and a rising feeling of fear as events start to escalate around her. It's a very realistic feeling - it's doubtful many people placed in the same position as her would cope, know what to do, not question, panic, thrash about a bit so everything about Ylfa's internal voice feels very realistic. Obviously telling things from her viewpoint also skews expectations and observations so it's possibly not fair to suggest police aren't using an appropriate sense of urgency, but it certainly could look that way when you're in the centre of the storm. It's also possible that clues and tips are there in the back of Ylfa's head, she just doesn't recognise them for what they are. Either way there's nothing overtly unreliable about Ylfa as a narrator, she's doing the best she can to keep her family, and herself, alive while also searching for an explanation.

Granted a fair bit of the explanation comes by way of confessions from the killer, but given the extent of the personal jeopardy, the personal feeling, that's not surprising, nor is it unfair or wrong. The reader is given plenty of opportunity to make some educated observations along the way after all.

Whilst there's not massive amounts of over the top or explicit violence in the book, this review should come with the obligatory crime fiction warning about the death of an animal. There is, however, hefty amounts of tension and fear, and a resolution that makes you wonder whether surviving sometimes isn't all it's cracked up to be.

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In the space of just a few short days, Ylfa Einarsdóttir sees her peaceful existence in downtown Reykjavík turned on its head. Some unexpected news from one of her sisters and a brutal murder that’s far too close to home for comfort leave her wondering why life has turned on her so suddenly.

When the police fail to take her seriously, her hands-on approach to the investigation soon lands her in hot water. Following a string of biblical messages left behind by a mysterious nemesis she stumbles upon a dark secret that has finally come home to roost. As she is about to find out, on a small island, what goes around, comes around.

Review Review - ON A SMALL ISLAND, Grant Nicol
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, January 8, 2015

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