The second novel to feature Icelandic lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir opens with a chilling prologue from 1945 in which a young child appears is locked in some kind of cellar. The story proper takes place in contemporary times when Thóra is asked by the owner of a health spa, Jónas Júlíusson, to see if she can renegotiate the property’s sale price because it is haunted which is affecting staff and guests. When the architect working on the property’s extension is murdered and Jónas becomes a suspect her legal skills are tested. She and German lover Matthew, in Iceland for a holiday, investigate both the murder and its possible relationship to events from the past which may also explain the property’s haunting.
As with the first book in this series, Last Rituals, the most enjoyable aspect of this novel with much to offer is the dry, slightly cynical approach to life displayed by Thóra. Whether she is tackling the prickly staff and guests of the health spa or handling her problematic family which includes a 16-year old son who is about to make her a grandmother, Thóra is independent, inventive and witty. I suspect it’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that I like my female characters to be strong and interesting and Thóra is a definite favourite. The other characters, of which there are a plethora, are not quite so well developed and in particular I’d like to have seen Matthew do a bit more than tag along with Thóra playing the quirky but largely silent love-interest. That said, the dialogue between the two is terrific and its wholly natural feel is part of the evidence of an excellent, nuanced translation.
My Soul to Take is extremely well-plotted, linking present-day events with those of the past very cleverly and in a way that keeps the reader fully engaged. The book was a however little too long at 450+ pages and I think some of that length might have been saved by the inclusion of an old-fashioned family history chart to prevent the need for several repetitions of the complicated familial relationships involved in the events of the past. In the main though the traditional whodunnit with a pool of suspects who all seem to have hidden secrets is first-rate and the incorporation of a possible ghost and ‘those bloody Nazis who always make an appearance’ add nice touches.
I am a sucker for books that make me laugh at the same time as telling me a great story and so far Sigurdardottir’s series does both. Particularly with regard to its plot I think My Soul to Take is an improvement on its predecessor (which was a very good debut) and I’m very keen to read the third novel, Ashes to Dust, which happily for me has already been released (at least in the UK). A combination of a strong female character, intricate plot and dry humour is to be celebrated, especially when of this quality.
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My rating 4/5
Translators Bernard Scudder and Anna Yates
Publisher Hodder [this translation 2009, original edition 2006]
Length 456 pages
Format trade paperback
Source I bought it