Why Did You Lie? (2016) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Alas I don’t have any more 90s reads to continue the decade theme of my last two reviews, but today’s read is at least in keeping with the more modern focus. Although a very voracious reader of vintage fiction, I do occasionally like to dabble in more modern works and on the whole my three most recent reads have encouraged me to keep doing so.

This is my first experience of Icelandic crime fiction and Sigurdardottir’s work and I definitely think I’ve entered at a high point as I really enjoyed the book. The story is made up of three distinct narratives taking place over the same time period, but in three separate locations. As the book progresses these narratives begin to overlap and lead towards the tale’s very memorable and chilling ending. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but the first narrative focuses on four people who have been dropped off on Thridrangar Stacks. If like me you had no idea where or what that is, here is a picture which shows how remote and claustrophobic a setting it is:

Three of the occupants have been left there for 24 hours to complete maintenance work, whilst the fourth, Helgi managed to wangle a place on the trip to do some photography. Intense fog, the possible sighting of a fifth person and group incompatibility make this team far from happy in each other’s company. Yet things are set to get worse when not only the return helicopter is delayed by 24 hours, but when everyone wakes up the next morning and finds one less member of the group…

The second narrative revolves around Nina, a police officer, who is going through a difficult time at work and at home. In particular a month earlier her husband tried to commit suicide and is now on life support. Struggling to make sense of what has happened, Nina comes across an old case file. Will this provide the closure she is looking for?

The third narrative shifts the story to Noi and Vala and their son Tumi. They have returned home from a holiday in America. Their holiday was house swap, yet a series of increasingly unnerving events lead Noi to think something sinister has happened to their American guests…

Overall Thoughts

Perhaps because I read so much vintage mystery fiction, the books this story reminded me of come from that writing period. In terms of atmosphere I would place Sigurdardottir on the same standard as Ethel Lina White, who’s Some Must Watch I foolishly read on a stormy night home alone. FYI – I would say don’t do the same with this book either, as Sigurdardottir is brilliant at maintaining uncertainty, suspense and eeriness throughout, making you to want keep reading to find out the full horror of the situation. This is not achieved through lots of full blown dramatics, but like a dripping tap small instances here and there, which can’t be conveniently explained away, eat away at the characters’ peace of minds and leave the reader wondering what will happen next. Suffice to say one of the deaths in this book will stay with me for quite a while, due to its high surprise and shock factor. What makes it all that more frightening is in the seemingly safe domestic space it takes place.

Another writer I was reminded of was Agatha Christie, a comment I know which may elicit a number of groans, as unfortunately Christie’s name has been overused in describing later writers. However, for me it is not the writing overall, but just two specific areas. The first of course is the choice of first narrative location, which unsurprisingly has an And Then There Were None (1939) vibe to it, though I think Sigurdardottir adds her own twist to it. The second area concerns misdirection, as again I think this is something Sigurdardottir does really well and is an aspect I think will appeal to readers who love vintage crime fiction. Of course you don’t realise you have been bamboozled and fooled until the end of the book, making you remember the things that have been said earlier in the story, which then take on a whole new meaning. The ending itself is very strong and has a good surprise, though the complexity of the deaths does make some of John Dickson Carr’s murders seem far more every day.

When it comes to modern crime fiction I don’t think I am always that easy to please, but Why Did She Lie? has certainly done that and more. From the prologue I was gripped, wanting to find out more, and the pace maintained a fast speed throughout, which is no mean feat given how long the book is. All three narrative strands were enjoyable and the final weaving of them works well. I am definitely keen to try more of Sigurdardottir’s work and her next novel coming out in May, The Reckoning, sounds appealing. Although not a mystery book I have also bought a copy of Hotel Silence by another Icelandic author, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, which I am looking forward to trying soon.

Rating: 4.5/5


    • haha sorry lol I was wondering whether you might have read this book during your course but guess not. It avoids falling into the noir stereotype of excessive bleakness and depressiveness, which means you get to focus on the fast pace and suspense. Having three separate narratives strands also helps this as it means the police side of things doesn’t overly dominate until the end of the book. Considering how many times you tried Paul Halter’s books despite never hugely enjoying them, I definitely think you should give scandi crime another go with this one.


  1. I’ve read three of yrsa’s books in the Thóra Gudmansdottir series (currently on the fourth) not in any particular order and I really would recommend them to anyone who like me loves crime fiction, appreciates the Scandinavians but isn’t too impressed by the relentless bleakness. These stories are certainly dark, sometimes a bit gory but the lovely elegant simple prose and our intrepid heroine Thóra grounds us in the everyday. Yrsa can be very funny and droll as well. I’m sure you would enjoy these Brad from what you have said in other posts. I find Paul Halter literally unreadable so if you have managed to finish any of them (for which I salute you!) you will not only have no trouble with these but I hope thoroughly enjoy them. My only small complaint would be my usual beef with modern fiction that the novels could be a wee bit shorter.


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