Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 July 2020 from Hodder & Stoughton
On a jagged, bleak lava field just outside Reykjavik stands the Gallows Rock. Once a place of execution, it is now a tourist attraction. Until this morning, when a man was found hanging from it…
The nail embedded in his chest proves it wasn’t suicide. But when the police go to his flat, a further puzzle awaits: a four-year-old boy has been left there. He doesn’t seem to have any link with the victim, his parents cannot be found, and his drawings show he witnessed something terrible.
As detective Huldar hunts the killer, and child psychologist Freyja looks for the boy’s parents, the mystery unfolds: a story of violence, entitlement, and revenge.
There are cliffs known as Gallows Cliffs or Hanging Rocks in Iceland. According to an old folk story these were used to execute thieves captured from their hideout in a ravine. Now these are a tourist attraction and this is where Helgi Fredrikkson is found hanged, with a nail from a nail gun embedded in his chest, though the message that had been attached is nowhere to be found.
Not long afterwards, a young boy, Siggi, is found alone in a smart city apartment, following an anonymous complaint. The boy, who is in good health, only knows his own name and the first names of his parents…but has no idea what his address is or whose apartment he is in – or how he got there. When it transpires that the flat belongs to the murdered man, nothing is any clearer.
Freya from the Children’s House takes charge of Siggi as Huldar leads the investigation into Helgi’s death, with his boss Erla breathing down his neck as the pressure piles on to get this case solved. As ever with Sigurdardottir’s books, this is immaculately plotted with lots of smart thinking and a number of clever twisty details which add to the overall enjoyment.
This story has a number of layers to it and Huldar and the team have a major task in front of them to work out what is behind the murder. This allows us to enjoy much more of the interaction between Erla, Huldar and the others in the team, including the newcomer, Line, who is a serious young woman with a formidable brain and who Erla finds it impossible to be other than rude to.
As they assiduously follow all the leads from CCTV through to questioning his friends, the picture slowly and painstakingly starts to become clearer and we get a sense of what this case may really be about. But that still doesn’t answer the question as to why Siggi is in the murdered man’s flat.
Though in this book the key player is Huldar, there is still a frisson between him and Freya, or at least Huldar thinks so and he uses what charm he has on her to try and get her to thaw a little towards him.He takes every opportunity to try and recover some of the ground that he opened up between them in previous books, as they consult over Siggi.
Freya, meantime is looking for new accommodation and what her brother comes up with has the potential to create all sorts of mayhem in future books!
Gallows Rock touches on some very dark themes (though less gory than in previous books – I still haven’t got over those first murders in The Legacy) as we begin to see how the two story lines are linked and the whole picture painted for us is a sorry tale of violence, masculine entitlement and depravity.
The pace is slow and methodical as the investigation begins, but gathers pace as new developments occur and the tension is palpable as each lead offers a new glimpse into the case. I was completely engrossed in the story and in awe of the way that it unfolded as layer after layer was revealed, leaving a chilling and authentic trail to the exciting conclusion.
Verdict: A truly impressive and deeply chilling plot with many layers set alongside lots of interplay and development which adds depth and emotional investment to characters whom we already have grown to know and like. Highly recommended.
Author of the bestselling Thora Gudmundsdottir crime series and several stand-alone thrillers, Yrsa Sigurdardottir was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1963 and works as a civil engineer. She made her crime fiction debut in 2005 with LAST RITUALS, the first instalment in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Her work stands ‘comparison with the finest contemporary crime writing anywhere in the world’ according to the Times Literary Supplement. The second instalment in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, MY SOUL TO TAKE, was shortlisted for the 2010 Shamus Award. In 2011 her stand-alone horror novel I REMEMBER YOU was awarded the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award and was nominated for The Glass Key, and has been made into a film starring Jóhannes Haukur by ZikZak Filmworks. In 2015 THE SILENCE OF THE SEA won the Petrona Award for the year’s best Scandinavian crime novel, and THE LEGACY, the first novel in the Freyja and Huldar series, was nominated for The Glass Key and won the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award. All of her books have been European bestsellers.