Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Guilty until proven innocent…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

someone to watch over meWhen a residential unit for disabled people is burned down, all the residents are killed bar one. Jakob has Downs Syndrome and a grievance – he never wanted to be placed in the unit and he doesn’t like it there. It seems to be an open and shut case but, because of his disability, Jakob is sent to a secure psychiatric hospital rather than prison and it looks like he’ll stay there for life. At least, until one of the other inmates asks lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to try to get the case reopened…

This is a very well written entry into the field of Nordic crime – Iceland, on this occasion – and the translation by Philip Roughton is first-rate. Apparently this is the fifth in the series, but it’s the first I’ve read. The characterisation throughout the novel is particularly strong and Thóra herself is a likeable lead, strong and capable but with a soft centre. As well as dealing with the case, she’s having to juggle home life as her parents move in on a temporary basis to a house already filled with Thóra’s children, grandchild and partner, Matthew.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

In the course of her investigation, Thóra has to deal with people with a variety of severe disabilities. Sigurdardóttir handles this well, managing to convey the difficulties they face without becoming overly mawkish or sentimental. Thóra’s dealings with the relatives of the victims show her sensitivity, particularly when dealing with Jakob’s mother. And her aversion to Jósteinn, the psychopathic child abuser who has hired her, grows steadily as she wonders what his motivation is for wanting to help Jakob. A sub-plot concerning a possible haunting is cut in to short sections between chapters and Sigurdardóttir’s excellent writing makes this part of the story chillingly atmospheric and decidedly creepy. There’s also a real sense of place in the novel, as the culture, weather and recent economic woes of Iceland all play their part.

Overall, a very satisfying read that, together with Läckberg’s The Stranger, has reawakened my enthusiasm for Nordic crime. Highly recommended, and I look forward to backtracking through the rest of the series.

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4 thoughts on “Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

  1. Oh, I like the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series very much, so I’m glad you’ve highlighted this one. I have to admit that I like the sense of humour throughout the series as well as the ‘inside look’ at modern life in Iceland. I hope you’ll get the chance to read the rest of the series as I think it builds up the backstories of the characters quite effectively.

    • You’re right – there is humour in there too, especially in Thóra’s dealings with her family…and her secretary! The only problem is that every time I come in halfway through a series I end up having to add even more to the ‘must be read’ pile…

  2. The only crime novels set in Iceland that I’ve read have been by Quentin Bates, who doesn’t sound very Icelandic but who lived there for a decade. I’ve really enjoyed those, especially the way he deals with the consequences for Icelandic society of the banking crisis. Definitely worth a read.

    • Ah, I’ll look out for him – thanks! Reading this one didn’t half bring home to me how awful the economic collapse in Iceland really was – we think we got badly hit, but in comparison to them we got off pretty lightly…

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