Yrsa Sigurdardottir

I Remember You – Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Title – I Remember You

Author – Yrsa Sigurdardottir (translated by Philip Roughton)

Published – 2012

Genre – Horror

It’s hard to believe that this is the first part of my Icelandic reading where the author is actually Icelandic. A featured author at Iceland Noir, Yrsa Sigurdardottir is better known for crime fiction than horror or ghost stories. In fact I hadn’t heard of this book until I saw Yrsa on a panel about writers who wrote books in more than one genre at Crimefest in May. Having enjoyed the books in her Thora Gudmundsdottir series I was curious to read something more scary and with our trip to Iceland just days away it was the perfect time to pick this up.

There are several different plotlines in the story. The main one features three friends who are embarking on a project to renovate a house in an isolated (and seemingly deserted) village in the Westfjords of Iceland. The location is so remote that they have to be ferried to the village by boat leaving them no means of leaving until the boat returns. They’re not really cut out for either the harsh conditions or the task of renovating the building, but their efforts are soon cut short when mysterious things start to happen.

The other main thread is more akin to crime fiction and centres around a psychiatrist, Freyr,  who is based on the mainland across the fjord. He consults for the local police and becomes involved in their investigation into a break-in at a local school, as well as the apparent suicide of an elderly woman. Freyr himself has suffered a tragedy in the past and a chance event means that, with the help of a female police officer, he starts his own investigation.

I did find the book slow to get going. The chapters switch between the different plotlines and perhaps this meant that I wasn’t quickly gripped by either. As this was also the first translated work I’d read in a while the English felt a little stilted, which didn’t help to engage me. But perseverance (and it didn’t take a great deal of effort) paid off.

The characters could be a bit irritating and a little on the dim side (if a small boy said to me “Don’t go to the bad place. You won’t come back.” I would be tempted to take notice). But Freyr and Katrin (one of the women renovating the house) are both sympathetic and strong characters, prepared to face their demons.

I can say for certain that Sigurdardottir knows how to crank up the tension! Most chapters end on something of a cliff-hanger and there were some incredibly tense scenes that I really wouldn’t have wanted to read when I was on my own. There is very little graphic horror but much more the fear of what you can’t see – what’s around the corner or behind the door. The story fits in well with the supernatural elements that often appear in Scandi and Nordic fiction and in an environment so harsh and with such long hours of darkness you can see why the supernatural plays a large part in their traditional and contemporary stories.

A chilling ghost story with real tension and a resolution that is very cleverly written. You can see another review at Crimepieces.

Score – 4/5

My Soul to Take – Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Title – My Soul to Take

Author – Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Published – 2010

Genre – Crime fiction

Having thoroughly enjoyed the first in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series (Last Rituals) I treated myself to the next book – My Soul to Take for a holiday read, and I wasn’t disappointed.

A grisly murder is committed at a health resort situated in a recently renovated farmhouse, which turns out to be notorious for being haunted. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is called upon by the owner of the resort –  the prime suspect in the case –  to represent him. Her investigations uncover some very disturbing occurrences at the farm decades earlier – things that have never before seen the light of day . . .

This book begins just 6 months after the end of the previous one, and we find Thora battling with the boredom of the legal issues surrounding ‘letter aperture’ and the postal service. She is soon saved from this by a call from Jonas Juliusson, owner of a health spa for whom she has previously worked. Jonas is having problems at the spa and believing it to be a haunted he wants Thora to help him  make a claim against the previous owners. Despite her skepticism the offer of a free room at the resort proves to be persuasive, and Thora agrees to help.

When Thora arrives Juliusson is unable to introduce her to the architect, Birna, who he believed would be able to help resolve the mysterious goings on, as it seems she has disappeared.  When a woman is found brutally murdered on the beach, it turns out to be the missing architect (no surprises). For reasons perhaps best known to herself  Thora decides to play detective!  Already supplied with boxes of mementoes Juliusson had found at the hotel dating back to the early part of the 20th century, Thora also manages to sneak Birna’s diary from her room before the police arrive. Armed with these two separate sets of information Thora embarks on her investigation.

 The story is a little like a locked room mystery – the resort is on an Icelandic peninsular so the cast of characters is relatively restricted and there’s limited access to and from the area. Investigation into Birna’s murder leads Thora and her gentleman friend Matthew into a complex plot which delves in the secrets of the locals. When Juliusson becomes a suspect Thora agrees to act for him and takes the opportunity to interview those who may have been involved. There are a number of threads to the story and quite a few red herrings along the way. And no – I didn’t get ‘whodunnit’. The story is rounded off nicely at the end once the culprit has come to light.

I find Thora a very engaging character. She’s a practical soul and doesn’t have much truck with the new age aspects of the spa or the staff working there. Her family is important to her and there is a story which continues from the first book involving her 16-year-old son and his pregnant (15-year-old) girlfriend. The book also has some lighter moments, which I think you need to balance the grimmer side of crime fiction.

This was a great read, and I’m looking forward to treating myself to the third installment.

Score – 4/5

Last Rituals – Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Title – Last Rituals

Author – Yrsa Sigurdardottir (translator Bernard Scudder)

Published – 2009 (paperback)

Genre – Crime

When I finished The Body Finder on the way into the office I needed to find something to read for the journey home. After a quick scout round the office I found a copy of “Last Rituals” & thought I would give it a go – and found myself gripped by an excellent crime novel.

A young man is found brutally murdered, his eyes gouged out. A student of Icelandic history in Reykjavik, he came from a wealthy German family who do not share the police’s belief that his drug dealer murdered him. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is commissioned by his family to find out the truth, with the help – and hindrance – of abrasive ex-policeman Matthew Reich.

Their investigations into his research take them deep into a grisly world of torture and witchcraft both past and present, as they draw ever closer to a killer gripped by a dangerous obsession…

If I had any concerns about this book, it was the fact that it was a translation & sometimes I find they can take while to get into, with unfamiliar names, places etc – but this wasn’t the case with this great story – I was gripped from the beginning.

Set in Iceland the story follows Thora, a single-mum and lawyer, after she is hired to help the German family of the brutally murdered student (Harald) by reviewing the police investigation.  Thora must work with the family’s other investigator, Matthew, a German ex-policeman, who comes across as very stiff and formal at the start of their working relationship. They interview witnesses, examine the victim’s flat and trawl through his papers and computer.  The final act in putting the puzzle together is for  Thora and Matthew to retrace Harald’s footsteps as  he travelled across Iceland to research what seems to have become more than just a part of his studies into witch-hunts.  During the course of the story the reader becomes privy to meetings between Harald’s group of friends – an eccentric group of students – who clearly have something to hide. In amongst all this Thora has worries of her own as she tries to balance her working life with looking after her two children. 

Harald’s studies were around witchcraft and witch-hunts and I didn’t fancy wading through long gruesome passages, but I needn’t have worried, the book didn’t dwell on the details too much. In fact there wasn’t too much gore or violence at all.  Fortunately the author also gave Thora a sense of humour, and that helped to lighten the tone of the book too.

I thought this was a very enjoyable crime story, with a satisfying end. I’m certainly going to look out for the rest of the books featuring Thora.

Score – 4/5