Thursday, 5 May 2011

My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Yrsa Sigurdardottir
It's refreshing to read a Scandinavian crime thriller that hasn't got a middle-aged, morose male as the heroic detective. I do love Wallander and his Scandinavian angst, as well as the dark political intrigue of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, but sometimes it's lovely to have a heroine who is intelligent, funny and has no piercings.

Although the life of Yrsa Sigurdardottir's female lead, Thora Gudmundsdottir, is all but perfect: as a divorced attorney, she's a single mother. She has an ongoing argument with her ex; her secretary is ignorant and lazy and her finances are in disarray. Yet, Thora also possesses the crucial characteristics needed for a crime novel heroine: curiosity and single-mindnedness.

In My Soul to Take, Thora is thrown into the middle of a murder investigation in a new-age hotel in a remote part of Iceland. The owner, Jonas, believes the place to be haunted and wants compensation from the local family who sold him the old farm buildings. When a woman is found dead in the grounds, Thora cannot but get involved. Stubbornly she brushes away the rumours of ghostly goings-on. She investigates the past but finds almost everyone is reluctant to give her information. Is that because in the cellar amongst the old boxes she finds an old Nazi flag and leaflets?

The plot of the novel is cleverly crafted around a time-honoured device - that of an isolated location. Nothing could be more sinister than a remote, haunted hotel, half-empty of guests, and full of idle staff such as sex therapists and tarot card readers.

Everyone around Thora seems to be convinced that something supernatural is present at the site. Even her German lover, who turns up at the hotel unannounced, hears the cries of a small child in the dead of night.

There's also great humour in the book; Thora's teenage son, who's girlfriend is heavily pregnant, decides to leave the care of his father because of the father's annoying habit of constantly playing SingStar on the children's Play Station.

The novel is full of twists and turns - the tension holds to the last moment. The end and the culprit were a complete surprise to me - and that is rare thing indeed.

Three of Yrsa Sigurdardottir's thrillers have been translated into English and a fourth one, Blessed Are the Children is due to be published in the UK by Hodder next year.

Yrsa Sigurdardottir will be talking about her writing and signing copies of her books at England's Lane Books on 18th March at 7 pm. Entry is free, so if you are able, come along and listen to this fascinating new Scandinavian crime writer.

My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Published by Hodder at £7.99.