Source: Review copy
Publication: 22 July 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
My thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for an advance copy for review
It was meant to be a quiet family fishing trip, a chance for mother and daughter to talk. But it changes the course of their lives forever.
They catch nothing except a broken doll that gets tangled in the net. After years in the ocean, the doll a terrifying sight and the mother’s first instinct is to throw it back, but she relents when her daughter pleads to keep it. This simple act of kindness proves fatal. That evening, the mother posts a picture of the doll on social media. By the morning, she is dead and the doll has disappeared.
Several years later and Detective Huldar is in his least favourite place – on a boat in rough waters, searching for possible human remains. However, identifying the skeleton they find on the seabed proves harder than initially thought, and Huldar must draw on psychologist Freyja’s experience to help him. As the mystery of the unidentified body deepens, Huldar is also drawn into an investigation of a homeless drug addict’s murder, and Freyja investigates a suspected case of child abuse at a foster care home.
What swiftly becomes clear is that the cases are linked through a single, missing, vulnerable witness: the young girl who wanted the doll all those years ago.
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is no stranger to the world of disturbing images and somewhat evil, supernatural goings-on so it’s no surprise that a creepy, barnacle-encrusted, one-eyed doll is at the heart of this complex Children’s House police procedural.
We begin with Huldar and Erla at sea, looking for body parts in the form of bones on the sea bed. For different reasons both are a little unwell and that situation does not improve when they find some of what they are looking for, but not all.
That’s not a massive problem though because there are other things that Huldar Jonas can be working on, including an historic child sexual abuse case which is where Freyja, a child psychologist and formerly Director of Children’s House, comes in – and he’s quite anxious to see her again and to see if there are bridges that can be built there.
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is a master of creating a complex series of mysteries and then dropping breadcrumbs to see if we can work out what might link them all. How does a creepy doll link to the woman who first took it found it on the sea bed and took it home? Where is Rosa, the missing teenager and key witness in the sexual abuse case and what does this have to do with the murder of two campers and the death of a drug addict in a container village?
Meticulously plotted and evenly paced, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s story is dark and chilling, the more so for its pragmatic approach to the police procedural element of crime solving. The central figure here is the missing teenager Rosa, though that’s not clear until Yrsa Sigurðardóttir starts to allow us to join some of the dots. What we do know is that she is a friend of Tristan, the young man making the sexual abuse allegations of a manager at the children’s home where both were staying, and now she is missing, just at the crucial point when evidence is being taken. The more we learn about Rosa, the more worried we become for her safety.
There are some lovely character driven opportunities that help develop the series as a whole. Huldar is still trying to impress Freyja while becoming more and more intrigued by what Freyja is keeping the spare room. Freya can’t decide whether or not she wants to be impressed and has no intention of letting Huldar anywhere near the spare room. In any case she’s looking after her brother’s daughter while he is away being a tour guide, so her style is effectively cramped even if she were to be tempted. And no-one is paying much attention to police newcomer Lina who is smarter and more methodical than the rest of the station put together.
Verdict: Beautifully atmospheric, grim in parts, this is a fascinating and multi-layered story where the process of uncovering the stories is the important thing and the detailed police procedural elements are beautifully put together so that you can almost connect the dots yourself as you read. It is beautifully twisted and seriously intriguing. A slow burn of a book, it will keep you immersed and needing to know where to put those final dots as the case nears being tied up.
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 intoa 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.