Review: The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is the first installment in the new Children's House series featuring the psychologist Freyja and the police officer Huldar.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s newest thriller—the first in the new Children's House series—is a terrifying treat whether you’re new to her novels or already a fan. In the prologue, which takes place in 1987, three siblings are separated: the little girl, who is the youngest, goes to a different family than her two older brothers after a crime committed by their grandfather against their mother. No other details about the crime are given, however, and we’re left with a melancholy feeling going into the main story, which picks up in 2015.

When Elísa Bjarnadóttir is murdered, it rocks her small Icelandic community. The murder is bad enough, but it’s how it’s perpetrated that really shocks police: after duct taping her head, a vacuum was shoved down Elísa’s throat, pulling the breath from her body and collapsing her lungs, among other things. Her husband, a doctor, was out of town. Her two older boys were found out on the street in front of the house shouting for help after they were locked in their room, presumably by the killer, and crawled out through a mirror. The only one of the family that might have seen anything was Elísa’s seven-year-old daughter, Margrét, who was found cowering silently under the bed near where her mother was murdered.

Police Officer Huldar is called in on the case as the lead detective. It’s his first major case, and he’s very wary about messing anything up. Luckily, he’ll have the help of Freyja, the director of Children’s House, which specializes in cases where child sexual abuse is suspected. That’s not necessarily the case here, but they also specialize in questioning children who have witnessed violent crime. The first session with the traumatized Margrét does not go smoothly due to the State Prosecutor’s impatience. They do manage to get some information from Margrét, who describes the killer as “the black man.”

“Did you see this man Margrét?”

“Yes. He was black.”

Silja shot a glance in the mirror. Freyja bent to the microphone and urged her to continue. Silja gave an almost imperceptible nod. Then she spoke again, her tone calm and composed. “Now I need you to think carefully, Margrét. Was he black because it was dark in the room or because he was a black man?”

“What do you mean?”

“Was his skin dark?”

“Yes.”

Silja licked her lips and continued cautiously: “Did you see his hands?”

Margrét shook her head. She sniffed and rubbed her cheeks clumsily to dry her tears. “His head. I saw his head.”

“Did you see his face, Margrét?”

“No, not his face. Just the back of his black head. He had a very big head.” Margrét turned her back to the mirror. “I want my grandpa. I’m not saying any more. I don’t want to talk about it any more. Ever.”

Silja tried to talk her round but couldn’t coax another word out of her. The interview was over, just when it had appeared to be taking a turn for the better. All in all, it had been a dismal failure, the exact opposite of what the team had been aiming for. Silja sat down with a sigh.

This is when Huldar finally turns up to the interview, and to say he’s shocked to see Freyja would be putting it lightly. They’d had a one-night stand fairly recently, and he lied to her, telling her he was a carpenter. He also left before she woke in the morning, and the whole episode humiliated her. Needless to say, Freyja isn’t happy to see him, and it creates some pretty heavy tension between them as the case progresses.

Meanwhile, 23-year-old Karl is living in his deceased mother’s basement, lamenting the state of his life, knowing he needs to get it together and pull himself of the stasis that he’s in. He’s lonely and feeling abandoned by his few friends, who are really only his friends because of a mutual interest in ham radio. Karl is hoping he can find something exciting enough to pique their interest, as it’s been waning lately in favor of other things.

He does, and then some.

This is where it really got creepy for me:

Karl quickly searched for another station and this time encountered one he didn’t recall having heard before. He pricked up his ears when he realized that the language sounded Nordic. After adjusting the fine-tuner, he was able to hear the speech quite clearly, which only intensified his astonishment: ‘…nine, two, zero, five, six, nine.’ The number group was repeated and this time he caught the whole thing. ‘One, seven, zero, three, nine, two, zero, five, six, nine.’ The voice was female and, as usual, machine-generated.

As he continues to listen, he becomes even more incredulous.

Karl copied it down and stared at the result: 1703920569. He read the sequence over again as it was repeated. ‘One, seven, zero, three, nine, two, zero, five, six, nine.’ All the numbers were right. It must be an absurd coincidence. Or some kind of joke aimed at him.

It was his ID number.

Karl examined the other series: 2412797319. That could be an ID number too. HE tapped it into a search engine on his phone and 122 results came up, none of which were Icelandic. He tried adding a hyphen in the appropriate place after the first six digits and searched again. Bingo. The owner of the ID number turned out to be a woman whose name—Elísa Bjarnadóttir—he didn’t recognize.

Spooked yet? Because I thoroughly was. It only gets more chilling from there.

Sigurdardóttir really puts her characters through their paces. They aren’t just dealing with a heinous crime. Freyja has a brother in prison, is living in his dingy flat, and caring for his giant dog, Molly. She’s lonely, and Huldar only brings back memories of something she most definitely wants to forget.

As for Huldar, he’s a bit boorish. He’s sorry about the encounter with Freyja and is hoping he may have another chance. Obviously, he’s a bit blind to the reality of the situation. For example, when he’s asked to escort Freyja through Margrét’s home so that she can pick up clothes for the children, he assumes that Freyja dressed up for him when she did nothing of the sort. She can barely stand to look at him. Don’t worry, though, he’ll grow on you. The poor guy is so out of his depth at first, it’s ridiculous, and he suspects that he was only chosen because a department scandal put many of the senior detectives on the temporary back burner.

They’ll need to find a way to work together, however, because things get much worse—and the body count continues to grow. The killer obviously has an agenda. I admit, I honestly had no idea where things were going, but I love that about this book. The author keeps the tension high and weaves her many strands together like a master. Just when you think things can’t get worse … well. I’m not easily surprised, but this one did the trick—more than a few times.

It’s a long one, but don’t expect to get much done when you start this book. It’s nearly impossible to put down. It’s my first by this author, but it certainly won’t be my last. Spectacular.

Read an excerpt from The Legacy!

 

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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at mybookishways.com, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.

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