😀 😀 😀 🙂
As the book begins, a man and his young daughter are in the last stages of asphyxiation from exhaust fumes in his car. How did they get there? Who has done this to them? The story takes the reader back into the past to answer these questions. Odinn’s life was turned upside down a few months previously when his ex-wife fell from a window and died, leaving him with the responsibility for his young daughter, Rún. Until then he had been a weekend father, fond of his daughter but leading the life of a single man. As part of his readjustment, he has taken a new job in the State Supervisory Agency, office-based and with regular hours. He has been given the task of preparing a report on a former residential home for boys to check whether there are likely to be any claims from former residents for compensation for abuse or ill-treatment. The book is split between his investigation and the story of what led to the home’s closure, following the death of two of the boys.
This is being billed as a horror novel and does have some aspects of horror, but in reality it’s more of a crime novel with psychological aspects. The horror consists of some unexplained shadows and the occasional bit of spooky giggling, and rarely sent any shivers down my spine. And it really doesn’t add anything to the basic story, leaving me to wonder why it’s in there at all.
The crime aspect is better. Back in the ’70s, the story is seen through the eyes of Aldis, a young girl employed at the home who develops a relationship with one of the older boys. The owners of the home have their own secrets and don’t treat either the boys or the staff well, though thankfully this isn’t yet another child abuse tale. Again, the reader knows from Odinn’s investigation in the present day that two of the boys die, so this part of the story, like the present day one, is more about finding out what led to their deaths. Sometimes knowing what’s going to happen works, but in this case I found that all this foreknowledge led to a serious lack of tension. There is still a mystery, which I won’t detail for fear of spoilers, and I was surprised by the ending, but for most of the book it feels like a fairly long plod to get to a destination we already know.
Usually I love Sigurdardottir’s books, so my disappointment with this one is partly to do with my high expectations. Although it didn’t quite meet those, there’s still plenty in it to enjoy. The characterisation is good, especially of Aldis, and the part about the home is well done, giving a good feeling of authenticity. Sigurdardottir’s writing is always readable and the translation, by Victoria Cribb, is excellent. The plot is intriguing despite the ending being known, and although it crosses the credibility line it held my interest for the most part.
I think the book is trying to do two things at the same time – have a realistic plot and be a spooky horror story – and as a result neither works as well as it would have alone. It also makes the book overlong. Had the spooky aspects been cut, the whole thing would have been much tighter and would, I feel, actually have achieved a higher level of tension. I’m sure that Sigurdardottir fans like myself will find enough in it to make it a worthwhile read, but it wouldn’t be one that I would necessarily recommend to newcomers to her work. Much better to start with her Thora Gudmundsdottir series.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton.