Cover Image: Double Blind

Double Blind

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Member Reviews

This is a semi- police procedural based in Iceland. I knew nothing about the deeper issues between Denmark and Iceland, but I got a full lesson here! The story itself was interesting but felt like a second book type material instead of a first. Every person we encounter has a back story that we only get glimpses of until it forms a complete picture.

The book jumps right into the plot by telling us how a pair of twins get separated when young. The one we have our eyes on, the girl grows up to works as a forensic geneticist and routinely does police investigations as well. She is a woman in a male-dominated field, and that comes with its own set of problems, especially with her recent promotion. She is sent a cryptic poem which indicates that her brother may be alive and well. It spins into a multi-level conspiracy problem and a lot of branches of sub-issues with her life. The local lingo is used with required translations when required, it may be a little distracting to a few readers. It was a pretty solid story, and I almost guessed a part of the twist in the beginning, but I was still surprised with the complete set of revelations, even is I was not wholly invested in the outcome.

A little slow for my taste but it does have an interesting background, and I got to travel to a whole new country.

I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.
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I looked forward to reading this book because of its setting.  I’ve toured Iceland and fell in love with the country.  Also, I’m a fan of Nordic crime fiction.  Unfortunately, despite its setting and genre, this novel didn’t win me over.

Brynja, a forensic geneticist, receives a cryptic poem which seems to suggest that her twin brother Lúkas, who went missing 20 years earlier, is alive.  The poem leads her to become convinced that answers lie in a medieval manuscript of Icelandic sagas.  Unfortunately, people connected to the manuscript end up dying, and she receives warnings to stop her search.  

In the Author’s Note, Winokur states, “medieval Icelandic manuscripts are Iceland’s most precious treasures and would never be couriered around the country simply for someone to have a look at it [sic].”  Why then does she have this done in the book?  Using an (openly admitted) unrealistic event does not “enhance the story line”; that event just undermines the credibility of the book.  

There are other issues with the book.  For instance, there are many information dumps.  Some deal with genetics and others deal with things Icelandic.  For example, here’s information about Icelandic horses:  “her Icelandic horse, her precious Drífa, belonged to an ancient time, a breed of horse lost everywhere but here.  Drífa’s genes led back to the Asian steppes, to the Mongolian horses that had carried Genghis Khan to victory.  The horses spread to Russia and Norse settlers brought them to Iceland in the ninth and tenth centuries, where they mixed with breeds imported from the British Isles.  Along the way, Drífa's forebears had developed mutations which, instead of causing disease, adapted the horse to the harsh conditions of the Icelandic landscape, granting the creature a sure-footed gait, a thick mane and tail, and a double-coated hide for insulation against the cold.”  This description, which goes on even longer, may be interesting but is totally irrelevant.  Likewise, what is the purpose of including recipes for skyr with bilberries, Iceland moss soup, and horsemeat stew?  The medicinal uses of plants may be interesting to an herbalist but including long lists of these plants adds nothing to the plot.

Brynja is not a likeable protagonist.  At times, she comes across as an annoying know-it-all.  Then at other times, she seems totally dense:  she realizes “with a surge of excitement” that she can use RNA to help solve a case.  I am not a scientist, but I know that RNA can identify the organ source of human tissue, so why should this be such a revelation to a geneticist?  She even has to check a genetics website “to confirm her thinking”?!  Brynja is Director of Forensic Sciences but she doesn’t know that her boss is informed whenever anyone accesses a specific database?  She has reached her position but still behaves unprofessionally and unethically by thinking of accessing medical information for personal reasons?  Brynja’s relationship with Ari is problematic.  She is engaged to him, but she doesn’t seem to completely trust him?  On the other hand, she has a new intern as an assistant but she trusts her immediately?  

There’s a narrative technique which is very annoying:  Brynja says she is going to do something but then there is no indication she does this until we are told she did.  For example, “She had called the doctor last night and was told he would be in his office at nine.  She could call in an hour.”  Then, her time is accounted for and she doesn’t make a phone call, though she says later, “’Actually, I called as well.  The doctor’s coming by this afternoon.’”  These types of inconsistencies happen several times.  

And there are other inconsistencies.   A person eats half a tart made with yew berries and gets brittle nails and dry skin immediately?  Icelandic medical staff makes diagnoses by comparing symptoms found in animals like horses and sheepdogs?  Three guards “were stationed in front of the church” but one says, “’I was the only one on duty at the time; the other officers were asleep’”?  Brynja must wear cotton gloves to touch an ancient book, but the pastor touches it with his bare hands?  Brynja suffers from visual auras and she thinks she must rest “to gain some control over the migraines.”  Later she says that some incidents “were a result of migraines and temporary auras.”  My research indicates that aura symptoms strike before migraines; Brynja has visual disturbances but never suffers from migraines.  A police guard is aware that a crime took place at a location but she thinks she has to call the police and have them rope off the crime scene?  A man is admitted into a “Memory Care Home” even though a doctor said “a diagnosis of dementia was premature”?  A man has no pulse and Brynja fails to revive him, but she “gasps” when she later learns the man is in a coma?  Brynja put the poem “on the nightstand, slipped off the bathrobe, and climbed back into bed” but then “Brynja slipped out of bed, walked to the table, and returned with the poem”?!  Elly speaks to a mail clerk and gets some information like, “’He was sure it was posted from a foreign country’” but then Brynja can’t speak with him because “he was away on vacation”?  I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

Sometimes things seem thrown into the story for little reason.  What’s with María’s strange behaviour?  Her wanting to sell vegetables from her garden is insufficient explanation for her oddness!  Why is there a bizarre interaction between Elly and Rúnar involving Iceland poppy tea?  Why does Pastor Dalmann say that the manuscript will “’never leave this church again’” when it is destined for the Akureyri Museum?  What’s the point of the animosity between Brynja and Henning?  What’s the motive for Rúnar and Henning “meeting so often and in private”?  

The motive of the villain is very weak considering all that he does.  His obsession just doesn’t adequately explain his actions; as one character say, “’Pretty extreme, though, killing people and all.’”  This person who “except for driving the pickup into town for the occasional errand . . . pretty much kept to himself” takes the truck described as an “old bucket of bolts” because “the door’s practically hanging from the hinges” and drives halfway across Iceland to the Westfjords?

As I said at the beginning, I really looked forward to a good Nordic crime novel; unfortunately, this book has so many problems with it that I kept wanting it to just end.  

Note:  I received a digital galley from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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"A young boy disappears in the chill of North Iceland. Twenty years later, a mysterious poem lands on the desk of his twin sister Brynja, a forensic geneticist, and rekindles her hopes that her brother might be alive. As Brynja unravels the clues, more poems arrive, each bearing dire consequences for those who receive them: the guard of the medieval manuscript of Icelandic sagas that possibly has the answer to her burning question, the prime minister’s secretary, the local pastor."

Language, literature, and murder intertwined to make me one happy reader.
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This book was a bit on the confusing side for me. Although well structured I felt like I had to go back and reread to really grasp some of the more intense moments in this book. I liked the build up to the climax and I think that the author really showcased their writing style in a beautiful way.
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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Brilliant forensic geneticist Brynja Pálsdóttir has been haunted by the disappearance of her twin brother most of her life. It has driven her to work in concert with the police, using cutting edge DNA research to help them solve crimes. She receives a mysterious poem that seemingly contains clues about her brother and what happened to him. The verse references ancient, valuable Icelandic manuscripts, spurring Brynja into an investigation that will push her boundaries and have her delving deep into Icelandic history and lead her to discover long buried family secrets. The tension mounts with each mysterious poem and death seems to follow Brynja at every turn. Will she be able to solve this case before it’s too late? 

My thoughts:

Double Blind is rich in Icelandic culture and full of interesting genetic research. The chilly atmosphere in this story is oppressive and really lends to the tension Ms. Winokur has deftly woven into these pages. The plot is complex, well researched, but it’s really the lyrical, descriptive writing that shines here. I felt almost like I was there. Winokur writes using all the senses and includes details and lore that made me feel as though I was truly learning about Icelandic culture without bogging the story down too much. It’s also very apparent that Winokur knows her stuff about genetic research, as she should given her background. 

The mystery was developed enough to hold my attention, though I must admit I figured things out fairly early. I expect Winokur to only get better at this aspect of her novels in the future. All in all, this was a good quick read, I enjoyed. I will be looking forward to more of Sara Winokur’s work in the future. Solid debut. 

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This book seemed like it should have been perfect for me - genetics, Iceland, nature, and a mystery all rolled into one.  Unfortunately, I found this book a bit frustrating with its convoluted plot and unnatural dialogue (Brynja often sounded like she was reading Wikipedia entries). I have rarely highlighted so many passages on my kindle just because I found them ridiculous or annoying. I thought the relationship between Brynja and her Danish assistant was unbelievable - why would Brynja put so much trust in someone she didn't know when she thought people were "out to get her".  And I really disliked that idea that Brynja's boyfriend would somehow be able to make the manuscripts available to for her personal use. I realize that is explained in the end that this would happen, but then it SHOULDNT happen in this book to advance a major plot point.  I feel like this book contains every possible Icelandic thing the author could think of, when it would have been a much better book if time would have been spent on character development.  An abbreviated review is being posted on goodreads.
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I was surprised by how good this book was. Reading it you could tell the author is new and finding her way. But with that said the book is well put together with the way the story weaves in historical facts with scientific facts to make the story more believable and three dimensional. I liked all the tid-bits of Icelandic lore that were peppered throughout the story, I felt like I learned a lot of neat facts that might someday come in handy while watching Jeopardy. There were only a few pacing issues where the story sort of dragged on slightly. If you are looking for a nice simple quick read this would be a great pick.
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Thank you NetGalley and Anchor House Publishing for the ARC.

I really enjoyed this book! Not only did I learn a bit about Icelandic culture, language and history but a bit about herbalism, too.  The history of Iceland was the motive for the crimes and the use of herbs were the deadly weapons.

When Brynja was 7 her twin, Lukas, went missing.  She has never stopped looking for him or let go of the guilt she has felt for him going missing.

Twenty years later Brynja is the director of Legacy, a national DNA registry that works closely with the police, and is engaged to the Prime Minister of Iceland.  She receives a mysterious poem that brings the memory of her missing brother rushing back.  The poem is the first of other poems (taken from traditional Icelandic Sagas) that accompany the murders. 

The author does a good job of building suspense and leaving clues (some of them misleading).  I wasn't sure "who dunnit" until the last few pages.
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Thank you Netgalley for the freebie and I appreciate your consideration and confidence!!!

This book is an average mystery with some CSI technical talk and some very good Icelandic background history for the armchair Traveller, such as myself!!!!!

The author has great potential to be a good fit for the newer Icelandic genre of writers and the mystery had enough legs to hook me into finishing up the story, but no actual new ground has been covered here.......

The descriptions if Iceland itself are rudimentary and closely match a previous book I just read before this one.  So, the writer may never have visited certain areas but the areas are so commons d Iceland is so small, it would be easy to take the descriptions in this book!
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I've been reading Scandinavian books since 1993 with Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow and I highly recommend Sara Winokur's, who's a Molecular Geneticist from the U.S.A., because her book DOUBLE BLIND: The Icelandic Manuscript Murders by Sara Winokur which will be published 31 March 2020, is really, really interesting. Even with the English words put together like German words, I loved this story. It's a about Brynja and Lúkas, who are twins, separated at about 7 years of age. After about 23 years Brynja still was looking her brother. So we see her as a geneticist, she got involved in the Saga's which were sent to her from an unknown sender giving her clues to find Lúkas and also warning her, she might be killed. The warnings were found to be really true in that 3 people were killed or were they warnings. She also had Ari, who was the Prime Minister of Iceland, and her fiance, giving her the right to look at the Saga's with gloves. She also had her lifelong friend, Stína, helping her meet with men who were interested in the Saga's. At work she had Elly as an intern working through the summer, she was from Denmark. All these people were involved with Brynja in finding out who was the killer. Brynja was the first person to come under the radar of genetic's, why? I've purposely left out the many stories that make this book so interesting. Sara uses genetic's to give the story some body and the Saga's to wrap it up. I won't say a word but DOUBLE BLIND: The Icelandic Manuscript Murders.
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This murder mystery is a convoluted mess that asks readers not just to suspend their sense of disbelief but to believe in entirely nonsensical things altogether. It could have been a good, straightforward crime novel involving a DNA lab, an ancient manuscript, and politics, but instead the author also included kidnapped siblings, false histories, romantic angst (by the protagonist), breaches of professional ethics (also by the protagonist), science that is treated like magic and misrepresented so badly it would win an award to misrepresentation, old friends with fun sex lives (upon whom the protagonist frowns), utterly implausible procedures in terms of everyday politics and work, horses, farms, and much much, alas, more. I wish this had gone through a heavy development edit; it might have yielded something good.
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Brynja, a lead forensic geneticist who works closely with the Police department in ongoing investigations, is plagued by her past. While visiting a village fair in her youth she loses sight of her twin brother Lukas who vanishes without a trace, never to be seen again.

Fast forward 20 years later Brynja holds a coveted job (that she earned) only to be scorned by her male inferiors who do not like answering to a woman. She keeps it together with the support of her fiancé Ari (also the Prime Minister of Iceland!) her best friend Stina and her “you only live once attitude”, and her eager assistant Elly.
When she receives a mysterious poem eluding to the fact that her little brother is alive and well she can’t help but believe it. As she dives deeper into the mystery her Alice in Wonderland syndrome auras start up and she begins to unravel. When The poems keep coming, bringing with them murders and other threats, fingers begin pointing Brynjas way. Someone is setting her up and using her brothers disappearance as a lure, but who? When Brynja is asked to step down from her post and Ari puts their relationship on hold she knows she has to solve this mystery before everything she has worked for disappears.

Every character is a suspect and while the read feels a bit slow, there is a lot going on. Rich with Icelandic history from Vikings to Denmark’s rule over Iceland and the remaining bitterness between the two countries, there are a lot of interesting events going on and a lot to learn. My only criticism would be that the emotional pull was lost in translation. It reads more like an action novel, rather than pulling heartstrings - which it should be able to pull off easily given the content.
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A geneticist finds disturbing evidence connecting to crimes.  Her twin was lost nearly 20 years ago and her father is falling into dementia.
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I was super intrigued by the premise. Unfortunately the writing style and overall plot were quite disappointing. I felt like I was reading one of my textbooks instead of a beautifully crafted story. The info dump is heavy albeit simple to understand, but it's just too much too often. So many times, the writing portrays the MC as a know-it-all and often condescending. Like we get it! You are a geneticist, but you don't have to explain everything you do aaaaall the time. There were mistakes here and there, and sometimes, we even got the same sentences multiple times!!! It was a very boring read, and all the characters were poorly developed and really annoying to me. I'm not sure if the MC is supposed to be unlikeable but she was. She made unethical choices for petty reasons. Also, for one case she was solving, she was unsure what to do and all of the sudden, she got an eureka moment and realized that RNA could be useful....... as the head of forensic genetics, I'd expect that she would think of it immediately AND that it would be part of the procedure in the first place when suspicion of foul play. The dialogues between the MC and her assistant felt like they were going on and on and on.  The plot is a bit too ridiculous to be believable in my opinion, and I guessed it early on, so much for a mystery.
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I really thought I'd like this book. Unfortunately I found it quite slow and difficult. I persevered as i did want to find out what happened to lucas, who disappeared at a carnival with his twin sister. I'm glad I finished it. It was a good story. Just wasn't the right book for me.. Brinja works is forensics, Iceland have a DNA database. She still hopes to find her missing twin brother. She receives a cryptic clue, some people around her are poisoned. Quite a few shocks in store for her as she uncovers the truth about who she really is and what happened all those tears ago at the carnival where her twin disappeared. Thank you netgalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Double Blind - Sarah Winokur
This was a really complex and involved story and not for the faint of heart. There was so much going on all the time that created a really fast paced and exciting atmosphere and I didn’t want to put it down! If you love ‘Scandi Noir’ genre then you’re bound to love Double Blind.
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DOUBLE BLIND is a winning blend of mystery, genetic puzzles, science, forensics, megalomania, Icelandic and Danish culture and history, with wonderfully realized characters and an exceptionally twisty plot.
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Thank you Net Galley for the free ARC. Interesting DNA based mystery using the idea of the Icelandic genetics data base.I liked the idea, the story line was a little convoluted. Hope there will be more. .
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I was thoroughly impressed with how the author described Iceland's breathtaking landscapes, amazing cuisines, culture, and history.  It was refreshing to have a murder mystery set in a place with ice capped mountains and geysers, and where the sun does not set. The amount of details that went into explaining genetic research and toxicology of plants were impressive, but were at times, dreary. I enjoyed most of the novel, but found myself skipping a lot of the scientific details to get to the big reveal. Maybe this novel will be more interesting for those who are into genetic research and Icelandic poems.
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