Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is the 5th legal thriller set in Iceland featuring attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir (available February 17, 2015).
That chill you just got? It had nothing to do with the draft that always sneaks through the bedroom window when the temperature drops below freezing and the wind kicks up from the north. And those goose bumps prickling the skin on your arm? They don’t mean you need to put on a sweater or turn up the thermostat.
Someone to Watch Over Me begins with a low-key depiction of a haunting as inexplicable as it is unnerving:
Of course, this could all have had a logical explanation that time and patience would help them discover. The house was old and needed a lot of work. However, some of the phenomena couldn’t possibly be attributed to that: Pési’s pile of cuddly toys was always arranged in a neat row in the morning; they’d find his clothing folded on a stool in the corner, even if it had been lying in a heap on the floor when he went to sleep. Pési often woke up in the night, but now they didn’t need to fetch him a drink, take him into their bed to sleep or go to his room to calm him down, because when they went to check on him they would find him smiling in bed, saying: “You didn’t have to get up, Magga is looking after me.”
Magga is a teenage babysitter who was killed in a hit and run accident and now seems to blame her charge’s parents for her death. It’s a promising setup for a supernatural thriller, and just as we’re turning the pages to see what happens when the family brings in priests to perform Iceland’s first exorcism in over a century, the narrative switches to a horror story of a very different kind. Lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is contacted by a convicted sexual predator who wants her to look into a closed case:
“Am I safe here?” She looked around at the chairs with their embroidered cushions. “I’ll be in the next room.” The woman looked unruffled. “If anything happens just shout and we’ll be right there.” Realizing Thóra was still unsure, she said: “He won’t do anything to you. He’s been here for nearly ten years without hurting anyone.” After a slight hesitation she added, “Well, any human beings, anyway.” Thóra frowned. “What do you mean— has he hurt an animal?” “That’s not an issue any more. There are no animals here now, because of how the most acutely ill inmates reacted to them. But of course we are in the countryside, and animals from the nearby farms do sometimes wander into the grounds.” The nurse didn’t give Thóra the chance to pursue the subject. “Please have a seat and I’ll go and get Jósteinn.”
Thóra tells her would-be client that she’s examined his case and doesn’t see any point to reopening it.
But it’s not his own case Jósteinn is interested in, but a case of arson/murder supposedly committed by one of his friends in the secure psychiatric ward where they’re both incarcerated. “I know more than you can ever imagine about what it takes to do bad things,” he says as we get that chilly feeling again. “Jakob didn’t set light to anyone or anything and I want you to prove it.”
What follows is a psychologically complex search for truth that weaves in everything from details about the impact of the global financial crisis on Iceland to observations about the changing nature of political correctness—Jakob has Down Syndrome and as she researches the condition, Thóra notes that the language being used to describe people like Jakob changes from “idiot” to “moron” to “intellectually disabled” as she reads on. The lawyer’s life is a complicated one; she’s housing three generations of family in her small house, along with her unemployed German boyfriend. A banker, Matthew is considered too expensive to hire by Icelandic employers and his prospects are getting dimmer each passing day. When Thóra enlists Matthew’s aid in investigating the cold case, his presence is a solace as she explores some very dark places, both physically and spiritually.
Thóra is not easily shocked, but what she discovers at the end of her investigation—with its tangle of mysterious texts and reports of angels with broken halos—is truly shocking in what it reveals about human nature and keeping secrets.
And that chill is you’re feeling? That cold that has soaked into your bones and turned your breath to mist? You won’t warm up until you turn the last page of this book.
And maybe not even then.
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Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Luna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird Noir, Pulp Ink 2, Alt-Dead, Alt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She lives in Los Angeles and sees way too many movies.