Although I very much enjoy her best-known series featuring lawyer-turned-amateur-sleuth Thora Gudmundsdottir, I love the fact that Yrsa Sigurdardottir (and her publishers) have regularly taken the risky step of publishing books outside this popular series. Even if the books haven’t all been totally successful I applaud the commitment to trying new things. And sometimes, such as with last year’s standalone novel WHY DID YOU LIE?, readers are treated to a truly outstanding read. With THE LEGACY the author is again in new territory; this time starting a series focusing on a Reykjavik children’s home.
I’m not going to discuss the book’s plot in much detail. Partly because I rarely do but mostly because this one is particularly well constructed and deserves to be uncovered in the way the author intended. Morsel by fascinating morsel. In summary, it starts out with a flashback to 1987 when three siblings are the subject of a tough decision for the Home’s management. In the present day there is a very brutal murder followed by a difficult investigation and some seemingly unrelated, odd events. Although even casual crime genre readers will anticipate that the events occurring in the present day are related to those described in the book’s opening, Sigurdardottir keeps us guessing as to how and with whom this relationship is to be revealed.
But plots on their own do not make for great reading and Sigurdardottier supplies the other elements needed to complete the experience. I particularly like the way she draws the characters here. They are not as quirky or personally traumatised as the more mainstream titles of the genre seem to demand these days but, for me at least, this adds to the novel’s credibility. Freyja is the director of the Children’s Home who becomes involved in the case because the present day murder was witnessed by the victim’s young daughter who was hiding under the bed during her mother’s attack. Freyja isn’t perfect but tries to do the right thing by the child while worrying a little about her personal life too. Huldar is the detective assigned to lead the investigation. This being the first case he is in charge of he is keen to succeed and the ways in which is troubled by some of the challenges the case presents all have a very credible feel. Although the book is tense and doesn’t treat its difficult subject matter dismissively there is room for some observational humour too, particularly stemming from the awkward circumstances of Freyja and Huldar’s prior relationship and the fact we hear both of their inner voices at different times. The minor characters, such as lonely Karl the ham radio enthusiast are also engagingly drawn.
If I have any quibbles one is that the book really has no sense of place but I suspect I am harsher on books from exotic (to me) settings on this issue when compared to books with more familiar backgrounds. And the first third of the book did drag ever so slightly, with virtually no progress at all in the case. But overall THE LEGACY is a genuine thriller that manages to keep its more salacious details within acceptable limits to make the whole thing believable. New to me narrator Lucy Paterson did a terrific job with the audio edition and, as always, the seamless way the story read, including its humour and linguistic puzzles, is a testament to translator Victoria Cribb. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one in this series.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Lucy Paterson
Translator Victoria Cribb
Publisher This edition Hodder & Stoughton 2017
Length 13 hours 38 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Children’s House series
Source of review copy I bought it