Title: My Soul To Take
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Paperback: 456 pages
Publication Date: 29/04/2010
Iceland’s turbulent times don’t seem to have extended to its crime fiction if Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul To Take is anything to go by.
It sees the return of Thóra Gudmundsdottir; part lawyer, part amateur sleuth. Her client, the wealthy Jónas Júlíusson, asks her to visit his newly built health spa and hotel on the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Jónas believes that the previous owners have defrauded him, as he has found a ‘flaw’ in the structure – it is haunted. Thóra is skeptical, but sees it as a chance to pamper herself and relax.
However, shortly after her arrival, the corpse of Birna, the hotel’s architect, is discovered on the beach, brutally raped and murdered. The fact that she had two lovers and was generally disliked means there is no shortage of potential killers, but the police soon begin to suspect Jónas. His shaky alibi and refusal to admit that he had had sex with Birna the day she died only adds to his apparent guilt. But Thóra isn’t sure of his guilt and with her German boyfriend Matthew, begins a private investigation, in the process uncovering a past of Nazism, abuse, greed and murder.
Agatha Christie is an obvious influence on this novel; from the remote, enclosed location to the large cast of suspects, all with motive and opportunity. There is also a healthy dose of the gloom and violence that epitomizes Scandinavian crime fiction, but Sigurðardóttir blends it with humour and wit to create a formula that is distinctly her own.
Thóra is an engaging and well-developed character. Independent, quick-witted and often humorous, she is also occasionally childish – sticking her tongue out at Matthew – and stressed by the thought of becoming a grandmother [her sixteen year-old son is about to become a father]. The only problem with having such a strong character is that it does make Matthew seem a little one-dimensional – he is supposed to have been a policeman, but isn’t much use in the investigation and spends most of his time trailing around in her wake.
But that was only a minor gripe in what was a fine mixture of sombre landscapes, gruesomely inventive violence and sharp wit. A highly enjoyable read.