Chilling tale of murder in Nordic noir thriller

Review: Vivien Horler

The Reckoning, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Hodder)

yrsa Cold, snowy and bleak, the Reykjavik Yrsa Sigurdardottir writes about does not warm the cockles of a reader’s heart.

Yet Iceland is becoming a major tourism draw; according to Wikipedia the industry now contributes upward of 10% of the country’s GNP, and in 2017 the number of foreign visitors exceeded 2 million for the first time. I was one of them, and I was both fascinated and charmed.

The country, which virtually touches the Arctic Circle, could not be more different from South Africa, with its jagged volcanic mountains, its icebergs and its terrifying prices. Cars have heaters but no air-con, the default position of taps is hot and you have to let them run cold, and streets in the capital have underfloor heating – thanks to the wealth of free hot water produced by the country’s natural geysers (geysir is an Icelandic word).

But perhaps its impenetrable language is, to us, one of its most difficult features. Briefly I learnt both to spell and pronounce the name of the volcano –Eyjafjallajökull – that grounded European flights for a week in 2010, but the knowledge melted away as we flew from the island.

For this reason you have to pay attention to the names of places and people when reading The Reckoning, and I cannot say whether I visited any of the locations mentioned in the book – other than Reykjavik of course – because the place names defeated my memory.

But I remember most of the convoluted machinations of the plot of this wonderful piece of Nordic noir. It’s the second in Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Freyja and Huldar series, who are a child psychologist and a cop respectively. Both have recently been demoted, thanks to a dreadful series of events which I presume is the subject of the first book The Legacy, and are wary of each other, despite a strong underlying attraction.

Because of Haldur’s new lowly status, he has been told to investigate a letter, put into a time capsule by a schoolboy 10 years earlier, which reads: “In 2016, the following people are going to die: K, S, BT, JJ, OV and I. Nobody will miss them. Least of all me. I can’t wait.”

The letter was written by Thröstur, now in his early 20s, a young Goth who comes from a poor and dysfunctional home. He lives with his mother and mouse of a sister; his father is in jail for child murder and rape.

Another core character is the arrogant prosecutor Thorvaldur, who has been receiving threatening emails along the lines of: “Have you made a will?”

Haldar – the cop, try to keep up – is present when, during a police search following a tip-off, a pair of severed hands is found in someone’s garden hot tub. Shortly after this, the owner of the hot tub is found murdered in a particularly gruesome way. This is a big case, and given Haldar’s disgrace he is not supposed to be involved in it.

Yet it turns out Thröstur’s letter and the hands in the hot tub are inextricably linked.

There are many twists and ins and outs – and a sizeable pile of dead bodies – before the book draws to a satisfying conclusion, all loose threads neatly knotted.

  • The picture that illustrates The Books Page blog, the row of giant books, is one wall of a museum dedicated to the Icelandic writer Þórbergur Þórðarson in Hali, Iceland.


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