THE MISTAKE by Grant Nicol (Number 13 Press, 2015)
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
A mutilated body is found on a lonely street in Reykjavík. Detective Grímur intends to see that justice is done. Kjartan Jónsson vows that his daughter’s killer will be punished. And that the punishment will fit the crime. Prime suspect Gunnar Atli desperately needs to prevent his own dark secrets from coming to light. And he’s not the only one.
THE MISTAKE was the first story from Iceland-based Kiwi author Grant Nicol that I've read. It won't be the last. Diving into this novella on a train journey in the UK, I found myself completely absorbed by Nicol's prose and storytelling. Hooked early, intrigued throughout.
Set in Nicol's adopted hometown of Reykjavik, THE MISTAKE has a simple but very effective set-up. There's been a brutal murder. There's a clear prime suspect - the very troubled man prone to blackouts who claims he just stumbled across the body. A cop and a bereaved father both want justice, but of vastly different kinds. Several people, all with secrets, collide.
Nicol does a superb job taking this premise and layering in a lot of complexities and intrigue. Beyond the "just what really happened - did Gunnar Atli do it or not?" hook, we are taken down a number of rabbit holes, as Nicol guides us into the darker parts of Icelandic society. Prostitution, treatment of the mentally ill, domestic troubles, crime and justice. Nordic Noir with a strong emphasis on the NOIR.
This is a very good crime tale.
Part of Number 13 Press's monthly series of high quality crime novellas, THE MISTAKE is small but perfectly formed. 150 pages that pack quite a punch, and leaves the reader reeling at times.
Being a novella, there isn't room for a massive amount of character development, but I felt that Nicol did a good job bring some depth to those involved; they were more than ciphers or caricatures, even if it is a very plot and atmosphere-focused tale. There's a real creepy sense to THE MISTAKE, a story of things going badly wrong in a world where bad things happen, beneath the snowy and peaceful veneer of Iceland.
Reading THE MISTAKE almost reminded me of those classic horror movies, which were brooding and creepy more than bloody and slasher-like. Absorbing, atmospheric, and suspenseful - powered by dark situations getting even darker as events unfold. Where the worst things happened off-screen, and were left to our imaginations, fuelling that gut-clenching psychological fear rather than blood-filled splatter and visuals.
Nicol is a talented storyteller who takes us on a short, but very good, ride.