My Soul to Take: A Novel of Iceland
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Review by Don Metzler
William Morrow Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061143380
Date: 01 May 2009 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Birna stopped. The fog had suddenly thickened, reducing her visibility to just a few meters. She inhaled deeply, this time through her nose, savoring the scent of the sea.The body of a young woman, brutally beaten and with pins jabbed into the soles of her feet, is found on the beach near a New Age health resort on the west coast of Iceland. Lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir is asked to represent the chief suspect, who happens to be the owner of the resort. Thora had represented eccentric businessman Jonas Juliusson when he purchased the old farm property on which the resort had been built, and now Jonas is convinced that she is the only person who can help him in his current predicament.
Reluctantly, Thora travels to Snaefellsnes. Upon her arrival, the first thing she learns is that, according to local legend, the ground on which the resort was built is haunted. She initially dismisses this as myth and superstition, but as she begins to dig into the murky past of the old farm, disturbing bits of half-remembered history come to light. And then there are bizarre occurrences, such as the crying of a baby in the night, that Thora cannot explain away with her everyday, pragmatic sense of reality.
Just what is going on here? And more importantly, what does any of it have to do with Jonas, or with the savage murder of a young woman?
My Soul to Take is a good mystery, and a great book. The stark, sometimes eerie landscape of Icelandís west coast provides a fascinating backdrop, but never oppresses. As a novel, My Soul to Take does not brood, but rather gets its wings from the contrast between the severe and forbidding setting, and the sharply drawn and lively characters with which the story is peopled. The translation from the Icelandic is expert and artful. The colorful, flowing prose helps to bring the story alive, and keeps the reader at all times engaged.
As an investigator, Thora Gudmundsdottir is no Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. She will seldom reach the correct conclusions on first try, by brilliant deduction. Rather, she will wend her way through a sometimes plodding series of wrong guesses and dead-end clues, before she eventually has gathered enough facts to arrive at the solution to the crime. But this quality makes Thora all the more human and believable as a character.
The history and lore of Iceland that Sigurdardottir weaves into the story are a treat and a delight, and are an integral part of the reading experience. My Soul to Take is highly recommended.