Book review: The Butterfly Effect, by Pernille Rygg

24 10 2016

Pernille Rygg is a Norwegian novelist who has written three novels, published between 1995 and 2000. Of these books, her two murder mystery novels, both featuring the amateur detective Igi Heitmann, have also been translated into English.

thebutterflyeffect

The Butterfly Effect (Sommerfugleffekten, 1995, translated by Joan Tate) is Rygg’s debut, and therefore marks Igi Heitmann’s first appearance. Igi, a psychologist by training, is the recently-bereaved daughter of Andreas Heitmann, a police-officer-turned-PI who was investigating a case for Siv Underland, a young woman who turns up dead in a snowdrift on the outskirts of Oslo with a pair of bullet holes in her head, shortly after Heitmann senior’s cremation following his death in a hit-and-run accident. With no evidence of an assailant, and evidence that Underland herself had fired the gun that is found at her side, the police seem intent on treating Siv’s death as a suicide—but how is it that she managed to get off a second fatal shot? Igi believes that Underland has been murdered, and sets out to finish the case her father took on. She learns that Siv had been seeking answers on the disappearance, over a decade ago, of Petra Holmgren, the daughter of the Underlands’ one-time neighbours. Petra’s body ultimately comes to light (so to speak), which begs the question: how are the deaths of Petra, and Siv, and Igi’s father connected?

This is a dense and heavily-populated mystery novel which makes few concessions to the reader. There’s a tendency to begin scenes without preamble, and I often found it difficult to keep straight which thread Igi was currently following, and how the people she was seeking out were connected to the central matter: it’s the sort of book in which a dramatis personae would not be a gratuitous addition, but a welcome quick-reference tool. Despite the absence of such a feature, the book is certainly well worth persevering with: while Igi’s a little too ready to push her luck, displaying an audacity that only occasionally ends in disaster, she’s undeniably insightful, clearly intelligent, and possessed of a genuinely interesting perspective. Rygg has given her an intriguing home life, well-portrayed: a bisexual transvestite husband Benny, whose romantic dalliances tug at Igi’s heartstrings; a disapproving socialite mother and humourless, status-obsessed stepfather; and a loose cluster of high-achieving, bohemian-leaning friends. The broader community, among whom Igi searches out those who may have knowledge of the deaths, is also conveyed with an endearing mixture of curmudgeonliness and clarity. I’m tempted to say that the book has a noirish tone, but this applies much more to the setting than to the prose. The writing is highly expressive and tends to introspection (which would seem to be Igi’s default setting), but the action scenes are efficient and resonant.

The sequence of crimes is well-constructed, and is resolved in a satisfying manner; the human story of Igi herself is also well-handled, and the book achieves one of the best endings I’ve encountered. I’m looking forward to exploring the other Igi story (The Golden Ratio) in due course, and expect that I will end up wishing there were more to follow (which, given that Rygg’s most recent book was published in 2000, may well be a forlorn hope). But in any case, I’m of the opinion, after this one, that Rygg should be better known than she is.

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