A long time ago, way before blogging, my sister recommended a book to me. My sister isn't a big reader, but when she dips into a book, it is usually quality. She highly encouraged me to read "Smilla's Sense of Snow" by Peter Hoeg, a dark and twisted thriller set in Copenhagen and Greenland. It blew me away...the characters, the desolate atmosphere. I might not feel the same way if I read the book now, but I've never been able to shake my fascination with mysteries that take place in these types of climates.
A couple of years ago, I was meandering through my favorite little bookstore in Chicago, Sandmeyer's, when this book caught my eye. A murder mystery that is described as "a novel of Iceland"??? I impulsively bought it, not realizing it is the second book in a series. (You would think I did this on purpose, wouldn't you?) But in the 80 degree Florida winter weather, I needed something to chill me out and trick myself into thinking I'm cold.
Synopsis: Thora Gudmundsdottir has been called out to a recently-built new age health resort to resolve some legal concerns by its eccentric owner. He (and most of the surrounding townspeople) believe that the grounds are haunted, and wants to press charges against the previous owners, believing they pulled a fast one when selling it to him. While Thora is visiting, the body of a woman is found on a nearby beach, raped and brutally murdered, with pins stuck in her feet. Soon, another body is found, this time a man, kicked to death by a horse. Some disturbing facts indicate this was not an accident.
Thora's client is at the top of the suspect list, so with the help of her boyfriend, Thora begins to do some sleuthing to try to figure out what is going on. What she finds is a twisted tale that started back during WWII and involves Nazis, a forgotten little girl, and madness. It is up to Thora to try to connect the past with the present, and understand why she keeps hearing the cry of a baby outside her window.
My thoughts: Let me start with the positive. Predictably, I was immediately taken with the bleak landscape of this rural, oceanside resort. It's lonesome beaches, it's barns and old farmhouses full of secrets. It is exactly where you want to be when there are murders to be solved.
And what horrifying murders. Sigurdardottir knows how to do a number on your appetite, with shocking and vivid descriptions of the worst possible crimes. I might even say creative. The mystery was complex and difficult to figure out, but aggravated by some trickery that I did not appreciate. Let me explain.
The author had red herrings all over the story. I'm OK with that...Nesbo is the red herring king after all. But when one suspicious character makes a vague comment to himself about getting the blood off a blunt object, or another potential evil-doer tells herself with glee that "the bitch is dead", it borders on hokey and intentionally underhanded.
I also did not warm up to Thora. She seemed bland and bumbling. She makes some poor choices in her Keystone Cop-ish "investigation", and she didn't come across as very sharp when she was interviewing people. I guess I had a hard time imagining that she would be able to solve a complicated murder case before the police would. If I am going to follow a series, I need some quirks, some hutzpa, some wild hairs, and some cleverness. I need someone like Keye Street or Harry Hole if I am going to stay engaged.
So will I pick up another book from this series? Maybe. You would have to do a bang-up job of convincing me...
2.5 out of 5 stars