I absolutely love the Children’s House series by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and it’s always on my automatic order list as soon as I see a new title available. It was an absolute delight to receive the rather creepy postcard and proof from publisher Hodder & Stoughton earlier this year and it made me all the more excited to read and review the book. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
It was meant to be a quiet family fishing trip, a chance for mother and daughter to talk. But it changes the course of their lives forever.
They catch nothing except a broken doll that gets tangled in the net. After years in the ocean, the doll a terrifying sight and the mother’s first instinct is to throw it back, but she relents when her daughter pleads to keep it. This simple act of kindness proves fatal. That evening, the mother posts a picture of the doll on social media. By the morning, she is dead and the doll has disappeared.
Several years later and Detective Huldar is in his least favourite place – on a boat in rough waters, searching for possible human remains. However, identifying the skeleton they find on the seabed proves harder than initially thought, and Huldar must draw on psychologist Freyja’s experience to help him. As the mystery of the unidentified body deepens, Huldar is also drawn into an investigation of a homeless drug addict’s murder, and Freyja investigates a suspected case of child abuse at a foster care home.
What swiftly becomes clear is that the cases are linked through a single, missing, vulnerable witness: the young girl who wanted the doll all those years ago.
Taut, terrifying and impossible to put down, The Doll cements Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s reputation as a master of storytelling tension and surprise.
Yeah. That doll is creepy as hell and it is no wonder that someone might assume it was cursed just from looking at it. Given the fate that befalls those who come into contact with it, I’d not be entirely dissuaded from believing it either. Not that I’m superstitious, but it is certainly not what you’d call a good omen.
I love the Children’s House series, or the Freyja and Huldar series if you like, because author Yrsa Sigurdardottir has never shied away from bringing readers the grotesque, both in terms of actual shocks and gruesome murders, but also in terms of the visceral reaction we are often faced with when coming to terms with the events in the books. It should come as no surprise really given that the series is based around crimes against children, both historic and present day. Not always at the hands of adults, but the adult influence is seldom far away. This time around Freyja is called upon to sit in on interviews of the former residents of a children’s home, one where there has been an allegation of historic abuse.
But that is not the only thread to this particular tale, with Huldar and his colleagues investigating the discovery of some skeletal bones deep underwater, a situation which leads to some comical light relief at the start. Let’s just say that neither Huldar or his boss Erla, truly seem to have their sea legs. To be fair, we’re going to need the humour as the case that Huldar soon becomes embroiled in is multi-faceted and much of what we hear will leave a bitter taste in the mouth as it rightly should.
There are other elements of the story, different threads which seem at first to be hanging loose. You know they will be important, the opening scenes with the doll above all else, but their significance is well hidden by the author, just a case of waiting for the right person to tug on the right thread and unravel the whole mystery. It is a story of coincidence and also not – everything that happens does serve a purpose. It may feel at times like you are just going to be left with a pile of disconnected threads, but Yrsa Sigurdardottir has a real knack for weaving them into a scene so vivid, so detailed, you are left wondering how you didn’t see it in the first place.
I love the characters in this series, especially the back and forth between central protagonists, Freyja and Huldar. They may have a checkered past, but you have to admire Huldar’s persistence and there is a sense that, to a degree, there is a moderate to mild thawing of Freyja’s feelings toward him. That could just be hormones, but it still makes this reader smile. Even Erla, often quite acerbic toward Huldar, demonstrates a more human side in this book, although how long that will last remains to be seen. But there is one character who gets under your skin, the young girl, Rósa, whose insistence on finding the owner of that grotesque doll really is the start of everything. Quite literally in the case of the book. In truth we spend little time with her and yet I was completely invested in her story, and the author manages to do this well through the actions, and reactions, of others. The narrative is immersive enough to make me care, even if my contact with her was fleeting.
This is not as dark as some of the series predecessors, so if you have come looking for 101 inventive ways of adapting household appliances for nefarious intent, then you’ll be disappointed. It is much more subtle, more nuanced. More about the character and the psychology of a missing girl as much as it is the discovery of bones, or the strange appearance of long lost bikes. It was a slower paced read and as such took me longer than I’d normally take to finish, but it was a book to be enjoyed, as far as you can given the subject matter. One to savour the richness of the narrative and the general atmosphere of foreboding that permeated the story from start to finish. A fab addition to the series with the real promise of more to come. Cannot wait.
About the Author
Author of the bestselling Thora Gudmundsdottir crime series and several stand-alone thrillers, Yrsa Sigurdardottir was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1963 and works as a civil engineer. She made her crime fiction debut in 2005 with LAST RITUALS, the first instalment in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Her work stands ‘comparison with the finest contemporary crime writing anywhere in the world’ according to the Times Literary Supplement. The second instalment in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, MY SOUL TO TAKE, was shortlisted for the 2010 Shamus Award. In 2011 her stand-alone horror novel I REMEMBER YOU was awarded the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award and was nominated for The Glass Key, and has been made into a film starring Jóhannes Haukur by ZikZak Filmworks. In 2015 THE SILENCE OF THE SEA won the Petrona Award for the year’s best Scandinavian crime novel, and THE LEGACY, the first novel in the Freyja and Huldar series, was nominated for The Glass Key and won the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award. All of her books have been European bestsellers.