Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Soul to Take - Yrsa Sigurdardottir

A newly developed hotel/spa with rumors of being haunted, desolate farmhouses, a series of murders, all that could have formed part of a 'cozy crime' mystery, take a slightly darker tone in Yrsa Sigurdardottir's second novel 'My Soul to Take' in the attorney 'Thóra Gudmundsdóttir' series.

'Thora' is a much needed change from the world weary, alcoholic protagonists that have become the staple of Scandinavian crime fiction (and indeed in crime fiction from other countries too). Yes, Thora too is divorced, but thankfully she does not suffer from any existential crisis. Her problems are more practical, raising two kids as a single mother, with one of them a 16 year boy himself set to become a father, juggling work and handling 'Bella', her secretary who brings new meaning to the words 'slob' and 'insolence'. Thora is asked by her client 'Jónas' to investigate the hotel, as she had assisted him in the purchase of the lands. Thora goes there and is confronted by a murder almost immediately which is just the beginning.

'My Soul to Take' is more tightly plotted than 'Last Rituals' which relied more on it's atmosphere to salvage it. Multiple murders happen and there are lots of red herrings and twists thrown in to keep the reader guessing. Yes, there are 'ghosts' here, but not the malevolent ones that are said to harass human beings after their death. These are ghosts of actions done in the past, actions that leave a permanent scar and create ghosts of memories that haunts people. A small town atmosphere with practically everyone knowing everyone and most of them harboring a hatred for someone for a (in some cases perceived) slight/wrong done, creating a claustrophobic environment is brought out well.

Though the subject matter is dark, the tone of Yrsa's prose is light in most places (other than those about the past), Thora's exasperation at her son taking his heavily pregnant lover on a road trip, the various psychics in the  hotel/spa and their theories on the 'spirit'  that supposedly haunts the hotel, Thora's relation with  her lover 'Maththew' all provide a bit of relief from the heavy duty murders. Indeed, as in other successful series of novels, the reader is as invested in the main/recurring characters as he is in the actual core of the novel. I am very interested in seeing the growth of these characters in the next novels (Bella needs to be given a much bigger role in the next novels of the series, there is potential here for a recurring character which is borne out by descriptions of other novels where she apparently plays a much bigger role). When such characters are bound with a solid mystery as in this novel, it does make for an engrossing read.  This series is a worthy addition to the Scandinavian crime wave.

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