The Icelandic Queen of Gruesome: Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s ‘My Soul to Take’
I do love an icy crime thriller, but I must admit I nearly didn’t make it past the prologue of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s My Soul to Take. Reading about the horrific details of a crime can be hard enough to stomach, but when a child is involved, I’m out of there. That was my initial reaction to this novel, but as I’d already read the offending part, and couldn’t unread it, I decided to carry on, if only to be able to lay the horror to rest with some outcome of justice.
Lawyer, Thora Gudmundsdóttir, is invited by a prospective client to spend a few days at his health spa so they can discuss a issue he’d like her to represent him over. He is convinced that the place is haunted and that the previous owners knew about it and wants to sue them for withholding information that might affect the business. Thora is reluctant to take on such a crackpot case, especially as her client seems to be more informed by planetary configuration than rational thought. However, as she finds herself free of parental responsibilities for a few days and there are no strings attached, she agrees. While there, a murder is committed (yep, it’s gruesome), and when the main suspect is Thora’s client, he asks her to represent him during the investigation.
Aided by her lover, Matthew, Thora begins to explore the history of the land before it became a health resort, and the lives of the families in the surrounding area, and dark secrets come to light. Sigurdardóttir does not shy away from grisly details in her novels and relishes in the shock value of a gruesome scene vividly painted. Thankfully, there is relief to be found in descriptions of Thora’s relationship with Matthew. Their playful flirting and Thora’s propensity for clumsiness act as a comedic foil to the darker elements. To be honest, I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about such a dramatic contrast of content. While the comedy is welcome when it comes, I’m still left with a lingering bad taste from the more gruesome aspects of the plot.
That said, I do like Thora as a character, having already met her in Last Rituals. It felt refreshing to find a female character in the thick of some serious sleuthing, who is clearly very good at her job, but like many of us, struggles to balance work and family life. She is a convincing and engaging character, she’s warm, funny but also flawed. However, at times I felt that the parts of the novel focusing on Thora and Matthew’s relationship dragged a little and I wanted to crack on with the story. My Soul to Take is quite a hefty tome and maybe it would have benefitted from a bit of an edit to give it a little more pace. Sigurdardottir’s crime fiction may be a little graphic for my taste but I do plan on reading the next one in the series – the gruesomeness might not be for the faint-hearted, but Thora is a likeable, compelling character and I’d like to spend some more time with her in the near future.