Review of I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The subtitle of this novel is “a ghost story,” and so it is. I can’t remember when I last read a novel that was so whole-heartedly about ghosts. Some books have a touch here and there of the supernatural – but this is flat-out a suspenseful horror tale with a touch of mystery. And it’s quite a lot of fun.

There are two major threads to the novel. In one, a group of ill-prepared citified Icelanders have decided to renovate an abandoned house in Hesteyri, a remote fishing village in the northwestern fjords of Iceland that is no longer inhabited except for occasional summer vacationers. They hope to make a go of it, hosting paying summer guests, but the three friends, a married couple and an urbane woman friend, have few skills and little money. After a boat captain leaves them there with supplies, promising to return in a week, they begin to realize how unprepared they are. The house is I Remember Youin much worse repair than they thought, the cold and the winter darkness is oppressive, and soon they realize they aren’t alone on the island. A strange, ragged child seems bent on destroying their dreams of turning the vacant house into a liveable holiday home.

Meanwhile, in the remote port of Ísaforþur, the closest town, a psychiatrist is treating a troubled old woman in a nursing home while trying to forget the fact that he lost his young son, something that drove a wedge between him and his wife (who can’t put it behind her). “Lost” isn’t a euphamism. The child disappeared without a trace, and the police can only surmise that he somehow wandered down to the sea and was drowned, his body never recovered. There is also the strange case of vandalism in a school which seems strangely like an incident decades ago.

These things, of course, are hardly random. The malevolent spirit haunting the abandoned fishing village must surely have some connection to the doctor’s missing boy, and photos defaced at the school seem strangely connected to a string of deaths . . .

Hesteyri

A great pleasure of this story is the drawing together of these threads as the author gives us a glimpse here, a hint there of how pieces of the story connect – all with a background of impending dread. Things at the remote abandoned village go from very bad to even worse, and the pyschiatrist begins to wonder if he’s losing his mind.

I have never been a fan of ghost stories and am postiively allergic to horror as a genre, but I was surprised at how thoroughly I enjoyed reading this book, though it wasn’t always the right material to read in bed before drifting off to sleep. There are touches of humor here and there, well-drawn and sympathetic characters as well as some who are not, and a plot that keeps winding tighter and tighter. While these kinds of books are often thinly-disguised as morality tales – someone who has chosen to be evil or made a bad choice gets his or her comeuppance – the story behind the haunting places responsibility, as so often happens in Scandinavian crime fiction, on people who fail to care for the vulnerable and on indifferent social instutions that don’t live up to their responsibilities. As well as the actions of a certifiable pyschopath or two.

photo of Hesteyri by Yodod

 

a belated roundup of reviews and news

It’s been quite a busy semester and a long time since I’ve updated this blog. There has been no shortage of reviews and news in the interim . . .

UrbanIndianWoman is a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction and at her blog, Indian Feminist 101, she sometimes muses on its feminist aspects. (This is something I’m also very interested in, so yay!) She has recently shared her thoughts on Asa Larsson’s The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson and also posted a round up of women detectives asking “Is it the densely dark atmosphere and snowy landscape and morose environment? Is it the fact that since in reality there is so little crime there that the Scandinavians’ imagination is more fertile when it comes to fictionalising it? Is it their innate sense of justice and fairness that finds voice in crime fiction?” Whatever it is, she likes it.

Reading is a popular pursuit in all of the Scandinavian countries, but according to the BBC, writing may be more popular per capita in Iceland, which has a thriving book culture for its small population of roughly 300,000. One in ten Icelanders will publish a book, according to the story, and the biggest genre at the moment is crime fiction. Sales double those in other Scandinavian countries, which also have healthy sales. What is particularly insteresting to me is that Arnaldur Indridason had virtually no company when he began to write crime stories not too long ago. He told me that his series tapped a thirst for crime fiction which had barely been published in Icelandic and with an Icelandic setting, though mysteries in English were popular among Icelanders. Takk fyrir, Arnaldur, for your books and others coming from your small island.

Euro Crime’s Laura Root reviews Vidar Sundstol’s The Land of Dreams. I abosolutely concur with her conclusion that some readers who expect resolution may be disappointed – but others (including Laura and me) will simply want to read the rest of the trilogy. 

Glenn Harper also reviews The Land of Dreams at International Noir Fiction, finding it repetetive at times (but not in an aggravating way) and, like me, is interested in what comes next in the trilogy.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Derek Miller’s Norwegian by Night which takes an American to Norway. She gives it high marks and suggests it would make a cracking film. It was the winner of the CWA new blood dagger this year, so she isn’t alone in thinking it’s a good read.

At Petrona Remembered, Jose Ignacio Escribano features Gunnar Staalesen’s Cold Hearts, He recommends it highly and wishes the author was better known. Do you have a mystery you enjoyed and would like to share? Why not submit it to the site? It’s a celebration of Maxine Clarke aka Petrona, who loved a good mystery and is much missed.

At Crime Scraps, Norman reviews Liza Marklund’s The Long Shadow, warning readers that it’s important to read Lifetime first. This entry in the Annika Bengtson series takes her to the Costa del Sol and is not, in Norm’s estimation, the best of the bunch. I’m afraid I find her taste in men deeply irritating! Flawed heroines are right up my alley, unless they have a soft spot for controlling idiots. Is “stupid” a flaw? If so, not the kind I like.

One of Sarah’s Crimepieces is Anne Holt’s Death of the Demon. She found it a bit disappointing compared to other books in the series, with a not-terribly-gripping or complex plot. (I’ve just finished it myself and found it more of an issue-driven book than a real mystery, featuring a troubled child who we get to know a lot about but not to understand.

She felt more positive about Jo Nesbo’s Police, which is a “huge” book with complexity to spare. There is a plot strand she found annoying – and (having just read it myself) I was annoyed, too.

Marilyn Stasio at the New York Times says its nervewracking and disturbing and you really ought to read the previous book in the series, Phantom, first. She applauds Nesbo for taking Harry off stage and letting other characters have a chance to shine.

At Novel Heights, Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s ghost story, I Remember You, gets middling marks for characters (who tend to get into scrapes more often than they should) but top marks for tension – and for its clever resolution.

There you will also find a recent review of Quentin Bates’s Iceland-set mystery, Frozen Out (apa Frozen Assets) which has a lot going on but a terrific lead character. (I’ve just started reading the third in the series and am enjoying spending time with Gunna Gisladottir.)

Barry Forshaw reviews several mysteries, including Arnadludr Indridason’s Strange Shores and Arne Dahl’s Bad Blood.  He thinks Erlendur’s return is well handled, but reports that it’s the final book in the series, which makes me sad. Arne Dahl, he says “writes crime fiction of genuine authority with a sinewy, uncompromising structure.” To be honest, I’m not sure what it means, but I think it’s a compliment.

Karen Meek, the heroic mastermind behind Euro Crime, reviews Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark. It’s not in the Sejer series, but rather is a psychological crime novel rather in the mode of Fossum’s recent work. Not one of her favorites.

She also reports the intriguing news that a UK publisher has acquired a new novel by Finnish author Antti Tuomainen. I enjoyed The Healer quite a bit.

Another Norwegian author is also due to appear in English, according to Crimficreader’s blog. Tom Johansen’s Blood on Snow is due in 2014 and will be followed by a sequel. Both will no doubt have an instant following, given that Tom Johansen is a pseudonym for the very busy and popular Jo Nesbo.