Ah, Alabama, where the skies are blue, and Confederate flags still abound. It doesn’t seem the most likely place to set a mystery novel but Icelandic writer Hildur Sif Thorarensen decided to buck the trend and trade Scandinavia for the south-eastern U.S. state in her second novel, His Sweet.
His Sweet is a riveting and engrossing story about Sheriff Yolanda Demetriou, who receives boxes of notebooks discovered by two young boys. It becomes clear that they were written by a kidnapped girl who may still be alive. From here, Yolanda faces a race against time to save the girl from “a heartless crime.”
By name alone, it’s clear that Yolanda doesn’t fit the Alabama ideal. Hildur tells me she deliberately created a lead who was half black, half Greek. “Alabama has such a different mentality,” she explains. “There’s only been one female sheriff, and never a black one.”
Compared to Hildur’s debut, Loner, the first in her Oslo Mystery series, His Sweet is a more serious work. It was originally intended as a short-story which in turn turned into a long novella while she worked on the sequel to Loner. Although Hildur thought the book would be a stand-alone, she’s already been asked to write a sequel, a request she’s not yet able to guarantee as she focusses on the Oslo mysteries.
Prostitutes are the subject matter of the sequel and Hildur has been busy spending time with criminologists in Oslo to delve into the seedy underworld of Norway. “I want to get a bit political,” she says, pointing out that it’s ultimately up to readers to decide where they stand on prostitution.
Hildur joins a long – and ever-growing – line of Icelandic writers who are churning out mystery novels which the world has a seemingly insatiable appetite for. Why are Icelanders all so damn good at writing crime? “Maybe we are mysterious,” Hildur laughs. “Or maybe we are over-estimating ourselves, but at school we learn about the Norse mythology and we are really big readers.”
Hildur left her home in Reykjavik several years ago to live in Oslo with her partner, Dmetri. “Sometimes I miss Iceland, but I don’t see myself going back there to live anytime soon,” she says, noting the country’s politics is “off-putting.”
“The rich are getting richer and people are working too much,” she states, echoing the sentiments of many Icelandic artists. “The money isn’t being divided equally and I feel like the country isn’t run very well at the moment.”
But she hasn’t ruled out a trip to Alabama. “It would be very interesting to put myself in a place like that,” she says. “A friend who lives there read my book and said I captured the atmosphere very well.”
His Sweet is out now.