Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Legacy – Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Crime Fiction
4*s

Well this new series was my introduction to Yrsa Sigurðardóttir the Icelandic author who has come highly recommended. I wouldn’t say I’m an out-and-out lover of Scandi Noir, as some of it is a bit too dark for my tastes, but here goes, here’s  what I thought.

The book opens with a deeply sad meeting of the equivalent to Social Services where three young siblings are separated to be adopted, ‘the only way to give them all a chance says the director, ‘they can’t stay together’.

The story then moves to 2015 when two young boys alert their neighbour because they’ve been unable to wake up their mother. There’s a reason for that, their mother is dead, brutally murdered by someone who has taken killing to a whole different level. Please dear readers, if you are particularly sensitive and prefer your murders to take place ‘off page,’ avoid this book. That said, this isn’t a book where you are bludgeoned by horrific images on every page there is too much else to be absorbed with.

The woman’s seven year old daughter Margret had seen the murderer and she is taken to the Children’s House, a centre where children who have been abused or otherwise caught up in a crime are treated and questioned, to give a witness statement there. The highly trained team which includes child psychologist Freyja, who I suspect may be the link we follow throughout the series. Freyja is compassionate without being overly sentimental and dealt predominantly in common sense which is how I prefer my protagonists to be.

Meanwhile the local Police force has been under fire with many of the lead detectives needing to keep a low profile in both the press and community and so it is that the newly promoted Detective Huldar leads the investigation into the murder of the young mother. He’s aware that should he fail, that will be the end of his career but when he quickly establishes that his victim seemed to have no enemies, he is struggling for a lead. Our Detective Huldar clearly considers himself a bit of a ‘lad’ but since it’s obvious he is so far out of his depth and he gained my sympathy as he kept on turning over those stones in order to solve the mystery. I actually think the better side of his character is shown by his pairing with his partner Rikhardur. He is not the sort of man to heap the awful jobs on someone else, he purposely watches the post-mortem as he understands his position.

In between the scenes at the Children’s House where Freyja attempts, fairly fruitlessly to coax some details from young Margret we meet a group of young men who are friends because of their interest in listening to short wave radio and it seems to one of the group, Karl that the mysterious numbers broadcasts are a coded message meant for him.

With so much going on, I became completely absorbed by this rich complex tale and never forgot that sad opening but struggled to find a link in the main body of the story. Instead the strands here, which all seemed to be diverging in different directions were skilfully nudged into place within the last portion of the book to bring the tale to its stunning conclusion.

I will be looking out for the next book in this series although I hope to explore some of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir back catalogue before then too.

I was lucky enough to be sent this book by Amazon Vine on behalf of the publishers Hodder & Stoughton and this unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages:  464
Genre: Crime Fiction – Scandi Noir
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

Well this was a devastating read!!

Telling the tale, as it does of Agnes Magnúsdóttir:

‘Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last person to be executed in Iceland, convicted for her role in the murders of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson on the night between the 13th and 14th of March 1828, at Illugastadir, on the Vatnsnes Peninsula, North Iceland.’

There were no surprises as to the ending, but the further I read through, right up until the last page I was willing history to be changed, for Agnes to pardoned and her life to be saved. Why was I rooting so hard for a murderess? Well Hannah Kent has in her words to:

‘This novel has been written to supply a more ambiguous portrayal of this woman’

She does this by recounting the run-up to the murders, partly in the first person narrative that Agnes gives to her chosen priest, Assistant Reverand Tóti Jónsson who is to prepare her spiritually for her death and later to Magrét Jónsson whose farm she was sent to while awaiting her execution. We also have an omnipresent third person narrator who lends a wider view of the crime committed, and of Agnes herself. From this we get an alternative view of how and why Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson came to be slayed with a knife and a hammer one night. It would take the hardest of hearts not to feel some sympathy for Agnes, not because the author tells us so, oh no, far cleverer than that Hannah Kent paints a captivating picture of the coldness, darkness and sheer bleakness of life in nineteenth century Iceland alongside the more common tale of a woman deceived by her lover. For Natan and Agnes were lovers; it was for Natan she’d left the comparatively well-populated life in the valley farms as a workmaid to follow him to more or less entire seclusion in Illugastadir.

‘All my life people have thought I was too clever. Too clever by half, they’d say. And you know what Reverend? That’s exactly why they don’t pity me. Because they think I’m too smart, too knowing to get caught up in this by accident.’

Hannah Kent has used the Icelandic sagas as a base to weave the story around, many of the characters we meet prefer these sagas to the Christian teaching of the church. Through this we have the subtle yet powerful lyrical narrative that had me drawn into Agnes’s tale.

‘My tongue feels so tired; it slumps in my mouth like a dead bird, all damp feathers, in between the stones of my teeth.’

With its references to the superstitions of the day frequently referencing the ravens I came to dread their appearance fearing what horrors they may be about to foretell despite being in a nice warm cosy home not a home where the boards hiding the dung used to build the walls had been sold to enable the family of Jón Jónsson to eat.  The feelings of the household to the newly billeted prisoner are also deftly drawn with a light touch. It is a supposed honour which comes with compensation but one that can’t be refused despite the concerns of both Jón and Magrét about the spiritual and moral welfare of both their daughter.

I can’t praise the author for the haunting simplicity of the writing in this book, although as the story worked its way towards its tragic ending, I was heartbroken.

‘They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men and now they must steal mine.’

If you, like me, didn’t get around to reading this when it was first published, I urge you to, this book which does not flinch from the realities of Agnes’s life and death should not be missed.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

House of Evidence – Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson

Mystery 3*'s
Mystery
3*’s

Blurb

On a cold January morning in 1973, inside a stately old house in Reykjavik, blood pools around Jacob Kieler Junior from a fatal gunshot wound to his chest. Detective Jóhann Pálsson, an expert in the emerging field of forensics, is called to the scene and soon discovers something more unsettling than the murder itself: the deceased’s father, Jacob Kieler Senior, a railroad engineer, was shot to death in the same living room nearly thirty years earlier. The case was officially closed as a botched robbery.

Pálsson soon uncovers diaries that portray Kieler Senior as an ambitious man dedicated to bringing the railroad to Iceland no matter the cost. Sensing a deeper and darker mystery afoot, the detective and his colleagues piece together through the elder Kieler’s diaries a family history rich with deceit…

I love books with an element of recent history and those with a diary to read are even better! This book has a diary, Iceland (I’ve never read a book set in Iceland before), World War II and family secrets which is why it caught my eye.

When the police turn up at a house in Iceland they find the body of Jacob Kieler Junior on the floor having been shot. The only thing that appears to be out of place is a single chair. Detective Jóhann Pálsson soon discovers that Jacob Kieler the father of the deceased was found in remarkably similar circumstances in 1946 nearly 30 years previously. The police try desperately to work out the link between the two deaths with the help of Jacob’s (the father) diaries which span from 1910 to 1946.

I love stories with diaries and this one is well managed, the reader often knows what to look out for in the brief diary entries following revelations in the present (well 1973 but present as far as the book is concerned). Jacob trains to be an engineer and has a life goal to build a railway in Iceland. This may sound a bit dry, but despite not being a train-spotter of any description, the explanations of various problems with the railway were easy to follow and quite informative without overpowering the mystery of who shot the two men.

The policemen although leading the search aren’t particularly strong character-wise apart from the female detective Hrefna who is in charge of reading the diaries. There is also an incompetent one Egill, who has a penchant for dealing roughly with his suspects. It is the mystery that carries this story along especially the bit that spans World War II with interesting political and social opinions from an Icelandic perspective. An interesting book that had me intrigued throughout it’s 460 pages.

I received this book from Amazon Vine as it was one of their amazon crossing books from December last year. The translation is good, not too clumsy which is good as this can be quite a dense book in parts.