(Vilborg) Yrsa Sigurðardóttir was born in Reykjavík on August 24th, 1963. She graduated from high-school in 1983, finished a B.Sc.- degree in civil engineering from the University of Iceland in 1988 and M.Sc.- degree in the same field from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada in 1997. Yrsa works as a civil engineer for the engineering-company Fjarhitun, as well as being a writer.
In 1998 Yrsa published her first book for children, Þar lágu Danir í því. To this date her books for children and teenagers are five, the newest is Biobörn (BIO Children), published in 2003. In 2000 the Icelandic department of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) awarded Yrsa for her book Við viljum jólin í júlí (We Want Christmas in July). Her first novel for adults, the crime story Þriðja táknið (Last Rituals), was published by Veröld publishing house in 2005. The book has been sold to a number of countries and appeared in several tranlslations, as well as its sequels about the investigative lawyer Þóra Guðmundsdóttir. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's latest work is Ég man þig (I Remember You) from 2010, which is also her first thriller where Þóra is not in the picture. Yrsa's first crime novel in which Þóra is not featured is Ég man þig (I Remember You) from 2010. Her latest novel is Sogið (The Suck, 2015).
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir lives in the Reykjavík suburb of Seltjarnarnes. She is married with two children.
Publisher: Mál og menning / Veröld.
About the Author
There is a split in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir‘s fiction. She started out writing children‘s books but since the publication of Þriðja táknið (Last Rituals, 2005) she has solely written crime fiction.
For this reason we have two separate articles on Yrsa‘s works: the first is on her crime fiction, written by Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir in 2013; and the second is an earlier one on her children‘s books, written by Inga Ósk Ásgeirsdóttir in 2002.
Crimes and Dark Deeds – The Crime Novels of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir had published a number of successful children‘s books before changing over to crime fiction (see the article by Ósk Ásgeirsdóttir on this site). In fact, her last children’s book before the shift contained a crime element: Biobörn (Bio-Children, 2003) describes how, due to a mistake by an elderly school secretary, the dunces Anna Lísa and Raggi are included in a group of exceptionally intelligent children who are invited to a course at an entrepreneurial centre run by a biotechnology company, Biobörn. When they arrive there, the dunces see that things aren’t exactly as they should be, but fortunately they are not long in setting everything off course – and explaining a few suspicious events at the same time. Biobörn was awarded the Icelandic Children’s Book prize.
Yrsa’s first crime novel, Þriðja táknið (Last Rituals, 2005), aroused attention not least for the fact that before it appeared in Icelandic it had already been sold for publication abroad. The author described, at the Iceland Noir festival in November 2013, how she had at first felt a pressure on her to add puffins and whale-watching into the mix, but managed to shake this feeling aside and finish the book in line with the original plan. When it appeared, it earned extremely fulsome praise from the critics, not least for the light tone that is one of its striking features – this being descended straight from the author’s books for children.
This, together with the plot, which borders on fantasy, places the book in the category of an entertainment thriller, by which I mean a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The elements of the plot are as follows. A young German student is found dead in Árnagarður, one of the buildings on the campus of the University of Iceland. His family engage a lawyer, Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, on the case. She is of the opinion that the police are on the wrong track in their investigation. Þóra is assisted by the family’s own investigatory representative, Matthew, a German ex-policeman. Þóra is a divorcee with two children, so here we have a love interest in the best crime thriller tradition. It comes to light that the dead student was decidedly odd. He practised various types of physical transformation on himself with piercings and cuts in his skin, in addition to following a particular line of interest in his chosen subject, history: magic, witch-hunting and torture. The theme of witchcraft becomes intertwined with the investigation of the case and the book is full of historical details of various types connected with magic.
The main character, the lawyer Þóra, is quite an attractive one and is reminiscent of the characters in the author’s children’s books. Her dealings with the stiff, fastidiously fashion-conscious German are funny and lend the book a suitably light tone in the midst of all the witch-hunting. The dead man’s circle of friends are a rather stereotyped group of weird ‘goths’. As for the teachers and staff in Árnagarður, Yrsa manages to create many amusing cameos.
Þóra Guðmundsdóttir re-appears as the main character in most of Yrsa’s crime novels, together with the German Matthew. She is back in Sér grefur gröf (My Soul to Take, 2006), Aska (Ashes to Dust, 2007), Auðnin (Veins of Ice, 2008), Horfðu á mig (Someone to Watch Over Me, 2009) and Brakið (The Wreck, 2011). Yrsa has also written three stories without Þóra: Ég man þig (I Remember You, 2010), Kuldi (Cold, 2012) og Lygi (Lie, 2013). (More have followed since the writing of this article . -ed.)
From the outset, it has been a feature of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s crime novels that they contain a combination of the ancient, in the form of the supernatural, and the modern. They all take place in the present. She is the only crime writer to have made deliberate use of the Icelandic folktale heritage to give her stories an extra bit of spine-tingling, and to this extent her stories border on the horror genre. Admittedly, in most cases the dark deeds have natural explanations: in this, Yrsa follows in the footsteps of the original Gothic novelists of the eighteenth century, who exploited the edges of the supernatural by having all sorts of mysterious things happen, accounting for them at the end with realistic explanations. Not all the explanations of those 18th and 19th century writers were fully convincing, however, and in some cases they did not worry too much about making them convincing,
Hauntings are what set the plot going in Yrsa’s second crime novel, Sér grefur gröf (My Soul to Take). The owner of a newly-built health resort in the Snæfellsnes peninsula, in the West of Iceland, thinks there is something strange afoot on the premises. He asks Þóra to come and look over some old papers that were found in an older building on the property, and this leads her into the investigation of a mysterious case. The architect of the health resort is found dead and there is a suspicion of foul play. Various references to dark deeds in the past are woven into the plot, which stretches back to the year 1945 when a four-year-old girl is locked up in a basement shed and left to die. The reader learns more about Þóra’s private life: she has paired off with Matthew, and also her sixteen-year-old son, who has just fathered a child, causes complications in her life. All of this is a recipe for a suitably thrilling atmosphere, with humour perhaps even more in the foreground than in the first book and full use made of the setting to create powerful scenes.
The supernatural plays a more prominent role in Aska (Ashes do Dust), which is set in Vestmannaeyjar (also called The Westman Islands, a group of islands off the south coast of Iceland). A human head is found in the basement of one of the houses that have been dug up after being buried by ash in the 1973 eruption. The reason why Þóra becomes involved is that the owner has demanded to be allowed to examine the basement before anyone else goes into it. The death of a woman who worked as a cosmetic surgeon, and who herself underwent cosmetic surgery, is mixed into the plot. As in Sér grefur gröf, events in the past, which in this case occur shortly before the eruption, play a role in the plot. The secretary Bella has a larger role here than in the earlier books. She tends to provoke Þóra with her ‘Goth’ appearance, chain-smoking and very strange way of working, which consists mostly in avoiding work she finds unpleasant – which covers just about everything that falls to her as a secretary.
In Auðnin it is Þóra herself who is not completely in control of her affairs when she packs her case for a trip to Greenland. She is sent there at the request of Matthew’s employer to investigate the state of affairs at a mining company. Of course something strange is going on, and of course the weather turns nasty – after all, the action takes place on the edge of the Arctic, where nature is unreliable. Þóra and Matthew and others are more or less stranded in a house owned by the mining company, and the atmosphere that develops is reminiscent of the classic horror films like The Thing (1951, 1982, 2011), though with less of the feelers.
Thus, Yrsa’s crime stories contain a good measure of horror elements, and the proportion of these elements has increased since these early examples. The supernatural events more often than not turn out to have rational causes, but their inclusion lends these works a mysterious character that is not quite so easy to explain away. This is precisely the mark of the Gothic novel, where earthbound explanations do not always prove completely convincing. The Gothic novel was the soil from which the theories of Tzvetan Todorov grew regarding the fantastic (Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970) / The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (1973)). According to Todorov, the fantastic consists not merely in the extraordinary or the irrational; it depends on the element of doubt as to whether something supernatural has occurred; we could say that it lies in the gap between the explanation and the event.
One of the most famous examples used to illustrate this theory of Todorov is the short story The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898), where a children’s governess believes that the previous governess and her dubious partner are persecuting the children from beyond the grave. It is never made clear exactly what is going on: various things in the story suggest that none of those who experience the hauntings – the children who report seeing the ghosts and the governess who is in an emotionally overwrought state – are particularly reliable.
Various things in Yrsa’s fifth crime novel, Horfðu á mig (Someone to Watch Over Me), echo this famous ghost story; it is about a child who seems to be haunted by the ghost of its previous nurse, who died in a terrible hit-and-run traffic accident while on her way to look after the child.
However, this is not the case that Þóra has to investigate as a lawyer. She has been engaged by a convicted child molester to defend a young man with Down’s syndrome who has been found guilty of burning down the communal home he lived in, causing the deaths of five people. Both of them are confined in the institution for the criminally insane at Sogn in southern Iceland. There, the child molester repairs old computers: even though his lack of moral sense renders him unfit for dealing with people, he is competent when it comes to technical matters. Modern technology of various types plays a large role in the story: the home that was burned down was lavishly fitted with various devices to help the disabled people living there. All these themes come together particularly well in an enjoyable and impressive crime novel that is without doubt Yrsa’s best to date.
The relationship between Þóra and Matthew now seems to be reasonably stable, though a certain strain is placed on it when Þóra’s parents, who have lost everything in the economic collapse in Iceland, move into their garage. However, Matthew plays a large part in the investigation, and with good results. Þóra seems to be capable of putting herself in the position of a disabled person; she develops a particular interest in an autistic boy who died in the fire. It could be said that she has some first-hand experience of this type of personality, as Matthew’s fastidious cleanliness borders on something that is not quite healthy.
The stories of the other inmates of the home, and of the workers there, are drawn into the case, and it appears that not everything is as it seems on the surface. The autistic boy’s family is what particularly attracts Þóra’s attention: his father is prominent in politics. A young radio presenter has received some difficult phone calls on his call-in programme; a girl lying paralyzed in hospital is also involved in the story, and thus the author spins a web that unites many dissimilar characters who all seem to be affected by the strange events. In the background is the atmosphere of the economic collapse: the home where the fire occurred was located in one of the half-finished new suburbs that sprang up in the gold-digging boom before the collapse. This gives the disabled people a symbolic location outside the mainstream of society.
In interviews she gave in connection with Horfðu á mig, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir said she wanted to write a book that was more a horror story than a crime thriller. The following year she achieved her aim in Ég man þig (I Remember You), which is more of a ghost story than a crime story, though crimes and criminal activity are certainly involved in the plot.
In fact, there are two plots in Ég man þig which are related alternately. First, the reader meets three characters: the young couple Kristín and Garðar and their friend Líf, who has just been widowed. The three of them have bought a deserted house in Hesteyri, in the West Fjords of Iceland, and are planning to convert it into a summer hotel. At the beginning of the book they are planning to live there for a week in wintertime to work on the house which is dilapidated. The psychiatrist Freyr is the main character in the book. He has moved to Ísafjörður to escape from bad memories; his son disappeared three years ago, after which his marriage broke up; his ex-wife appears to be insane.
Freyr’s story begins as a traditional crime story in a little village, where the school is vandalised and an elderly patient of Freyr’s recalls how just the same sort of vandalism took place many years previously. Freyr starts investigating the case together with the policewoman Dagný, to whom he is attracted. Amongst other things, he discovers that a boy disappeared without a trace from the village shortly before the vandalism was committed. This reminds him somewhat of his own tragedy and his curiosity is piqued. And all this seems to be connected with the suicide of a woman at much the same time as the vandalism in the school, and some mysterious events also start taking place.
The story of the house to be converted into a summer hotel in the deserted village, on the other hand, is more of a ghost story right from the outset. The young people find a bad smell in the house and some bones under the veranda, and also hear some weird noises. The ship’s captain who sailed across the fjord with them had mentioned that there was something odd about the place, and all good readers of thrillers know that when old men say something in stories of this type, they know what they are talking about. Soon, the people become aware of a boy who seems to be the cause of the problems. There are communication difficulties between the three of them, particularly between the two women, and things only become worse when the batteries in their telephones run out of charge without warning and they can no longer phone for help.
Yrsa draws on many kinds of material here, from folktales to the contemporary horror story. Folktale motifs include various indications of hauntings, while references to more modern stuff include nods to haunted-house tales like The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson (the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining (1977)). Dreams are also significant, which is another trait of the folk tale. Modern technology also plays a role in the story (ghosts’ whisperings are recorded on video camera and mobile phones). There is humour too, even though the predominant mood is heavy and dark, and the gothic themes of dark deeds in the past and skeletons in the cupboard are also present. All these ingredients go well together, and Yrsa succeeds brilliantly in this story about the secrets of the past. While the reactions of Kristín, Garðar and Líf are sometimes a bit unbelievable, one must remember that in this, Yrsa is following the well-trodden tradition of the horror story which is that whenever characters in danger have to choose between alternatives, they will make the wrong choice.
Yet another element in the book is the economic collapse in Iceland: one of the reasons for the desperate attempt to refurbish the house is that Garðar has lost everything in the crisis, including his job: he and his wife are technically bankrupt. Líf, on the other hand, is comfortably off, partly because her husband lost less and also left a substantial life insurance policy. Yrsa used the financial crisis in Iceland in a convincing way in Horfðu á mig; here it functions even better as a background, the cold reality contrasted with the spine-chilling hauntings. Here we have yet another feature of the horror film: strong contrasts and ordinary people in extreme circumstances.
Yrsa is back on familiar territory in Brakið (The Wreck), where Þóra is again the main character with Bella as a satellite. An unmanned yacht runs into the pier in Reykjavík Harbour and there are various indications that dramatic events have taken place. At the same time there seems to be something odd going on and of course complicated financial matters and the recent economic collapse come into the story. The story is partly told by a young man, Ægir, while he is on board the yacht; in this way the reader learns something of what happened before the yacht runs into the pier. Yrsa uses this device in many of her stories, having peripheral characters relate the part of the story which concerns the crime.
Þóra is also out of the picture in Yrsa’s next two books, Kuldi (Cold) and Lygi (Lie), both of which return to the horror-laden atmosphere of Ég man þig. Kuldi takes place for the most part in a remote and isolated reformatory; the action is set in the recent past and is related by a young woman who goes there to work as a matron. In the present, a man starts, almost by coincidence, looking into some reports on the reformatory. This is presented in the context of the exposés of the goings-on at institutions of this type in recent years. At the same time, he is dealing with difficulties in his private life: the woman by whom he had a child has died recently, apparently after a tragic accident, and their daughter is struggling to cope with the impact of her death.
As has been mentioned, Þóra does not appear in Lygi, yet the book is closer to being a traditional crime story than Ég man þig and Kuldi. Here, it is the policewoman Nína who is dealing with grief after her husband is left in a permanent coma, having attempted suicide. Nína finds it hard to accept that he tried to take his own life, in addition to which she cannot bring herself to have his life-support system disconnected. She is given the assignment of going through storerooms full of old documents, sorting them and throwing away those that are no longer needed. Among them she comes across a page of a report with her husband’s name from the time when he was a child. She tries to investigate the case and soon discovers that not all is as it seems at first. At the same time two other stories develop. One of these is of four people who are left behind on the largest of the group of barren rock stacks known as Þrídrangar in Vestmannaeyjar. The other story is that of a young couple, Nói and Vala, who come back from holiday to find that something is not quite right in their home, which they had exchanged with an American couple. At first it seems that something mysterious is afoot, but it later comes to light that it the unpleasantness is of human cause. Vala has been receiving offensive letters, and soon we learn that other people have too, including Nína’s husband and a lawyer who unexpectedly committed suicide recently.
As the central character in the book, Nína is the one who brings these threads together. She is a rather tragic figure. Both Kuldi and Lygi are far more serious than Yrsa’s earlier books, though without being completely devoid of humour. Nína is crushed by grief, yet is not prepared to give up. She regards herself as only an average police officer and is thinking of leaving the job, but on top of her grief she also has to handle the consequences of having brought a complaint against a colleague for improper behaviour. This is not a welcome move, which is why she is assigned to sorting documents in the basement. Thus, this part of the story touches on a familiar theme: the position of women in the police. It is nevertheless rather down to earth and consists mostly of discussions of day-to-day matters.
In contrast to Nína stand the young couple Nói and Vala, who seem to live the perfect life, at least on the surface. Nói has had a difficult childhood, as a result of which he makes a great point of ensuring that he and his family are secure. The mysterious events surrounding their return are particularly unsettling for him. It is this part of the story that contains the largest measure of mystery and horror.
The third sub-plot, the story of the four people marooned on the barren island, is a sort of psychological thriller. The reader follows the photographer, Helgi, who joins the trip at the last minute. It soon becomes clear that he does not get on well with Ívar, the man who invited him. A claustrophobic atmosphere develops in this physically restricted setting where there are dangers on all sides in the form of sheer cliffs, and the situation is not improved by bad weather.
The situation deteriorates rapidly, not least after one of the group disappears, leaving behind a rucksack stained with blood. Past misdeeds come to light gradually, and everything seems to be heading for a predictable climax, but an unexpected twist just before the end arrests this feeling of complacency and raises the novel up onto a higher plane.
As has been intimated, Nína is the most elaborately-drawn character and it therefore seems reasonable to ask oneself whether Yrsa is introducing a new major figure; it is not uncommon for crime writers to have more than one iron in the fire. There is a certain sense of tiredness in the character of Þóra in Brakið; the humour has become a bit repetitive and the irritating Bella becomes more and more acceptable (perhaps unintentionally?). It would be a pity, though, to lose the two of them entirely, as well as the complex family life of Þóra the lawyer. As a character, Nína offers the potential of another type of approach to the crime novel genre which could broaden Yrsa’s scope as a writer and give us a welcome rest from Þóra. She might perhaps reappear at a later date, the better for the break yet always as surprised as ever at how she manages to get mixed up in strange cases.
Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir, 2013. Translated by Jeffrey Cosser.
Between 1998 and 2001 Yrsa Sigurðardóttir published three books for children and one for young people, so it is fair to say that she has made an impressive start as a writer. Her first book is called Þar lágu Danir í því (What rotten Luck) (1998), the second Við viljum jólin í júlí (We Want Christmas in July) (1999), the third bears the impressive title Barnapíubófinn, Búkolla og bókarránið (The Crooked Babysitter, Búkolla and the Bookraid) (2000) and finally there is B10 (2001). While these are independent stories, their covers are all designed by Arngunnur Ýr (who also illustrates the first three books) and this gives them a consistent appearance. In addition, the cover pictures show girls in the foreground, the common element in the first three stories being that the central characters and narrators are girls around 11 years of age, while in B10 the central characters are somewhat older. Yrsa’s stories are not typical ‘girlie stories’, her girls are strong, imaginative and clever. They speak for themselves and allow neither cops nor journalists to influence their tales or interrupt their flow.
Above all the stories are entertaining, and should appeal to boy and girl readers alike. The age of the central characters, 11 years, seems to me to indicate the age of its target readership, for whom there has in fact been a shortage of contemporary Icelandic literature - even more so for teenagers, and B10 is, again, notable in being aimed at somewhat older children. The stories all take place in Reykjavík and its vicinity, and describe the circumstances of modern people, their complex family patterns and various obsessions in a way which is both humorous and critical. The criticism is evident in that to the girls the diets, the tax dodging and the problems of the adults are perfectly ordinary; adults are a bit crazy, their disarray perfectly normal.
Yrsa’s stories have been categorised as slapstick, and they have the obvious characteristics of farce: one misunderstanding is followed by another, and the characters suffer endless disasters; the text is exaggerated and the characters are above all stereotypical. The construction of the stories is very direct, though the main storyline is continually interrupted by digressions which kindle both anticipation and impatience in the listener/reader, like that of the policeman in Þar lágu Danir í því:
The policeman has clearly had enough of this story. Suddenly, he straightens himself and says with authority: “Now, that’s enough, love. Continue describing what happened today. We don’t want to be here all night.” (29)
Yrsa manages to keep the digressions within reasonable limits so that the storyline is not broken. I also feel that she keeps a good balance with the jokes; there are a few, but thankfully the humour of the story lies in its amusing descriptions, its black humour and dialogue. I was slightly worried to read descriptions of granddads with Alzheimer’s disease, a mother who was unsympathetic towards her husband’s terrible injuries, how some of the fathers read smutty magazines, and descriptions of a male striptease. I realised later that this was due to my own prudishness, because all the characters are treated equally: the girls discuss their parents, grandparents and others without getting bothered about “that’s no way to talk about your elders”, “respect thy father and mother” and such dos and don’ts. As far as smut is concerned, it is becoming more and more visible in our lives, and the author’s outspokenness can be hilarious, as for example when Theodóra in Við viljum jólin í júlí wants to entertain her bed-ridden father:
I start by translating the English text, which is an interview with some woman. “What really turns me on is when I put on a tiny pair of lacy knickers and sit topless on the balcony where everybody can see me.” That’s as far as I get because dad starts up, scarlet-faced, and snatches the magazine off me with his good hand. “For Christ’s sake, read something else,” he says and I catch a glimpse of the cover. On the front there is a picture of a naked lady. Whoops, a dirty magazine, I think, and check the cover of the other magazine lying on the bedside table before I begin to read from it. It is a science journal in Icelandic, so I should be safe with that. (18)
Glódís’ view of her friend Palli’s disability is also refreshing in Þar lágu Danir í því, and without unnecessary pity:
“Your friend Páll seems to cope with his disability,” the policeman breaks in. “What do you mean,” I say, somewhat irritated by the interruption, as I was at last in full flow. “Palli isn’t disabled. He is just missing a leg. He’s always just had the one. You can’t be disabled unless it happens after you’re born. In a traffic accident, or something. Haven’t you seen the adverts on telly?” I’m surprised the cops don’t know any better. (38)
Icelandic writers, especially thriller writers, have been accused of not being able to create a watertight plot, and in Icelandic films the script has often been considered the weakest link. I don’t feel able to say whether this criticism is fair or not, but I certainly don’t think it applies to Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, as in each of these four stories she manages incredibly well to make a very complicated plot work.
The stories are of very similar quality and, although they address different scenarios, are all of a kind, so that it’s even possible to get them mixed up. Firstly, the voices of the central characters and narrators in all the stories are very similar, they recount funny happenings, there is a lot of dialogue and the format is colloquial with occasional English slang such as “Christ” and “Oh boy.” Secondly, subsidiary characters in the books are often the same: confused granddads, troublesome neighbours, tedious siblings, vegetarians, casual fathers and over-stressed mothers. The fact that the characters are so melodramatic stops them from becoming stereotypes and thus they become more real, perverse as that may seem. Thirdly and finally, the stories share a similar structure: in Við viljum jólin í júlí there is an introduction creating a frame in which a story which started seven years earlier is being recollected, and in the following two books there are stories within stories. In Þar lágu Danir í því Glódís is being interrogated by the police, and in Barnapíubófinn, Búkolla og bókarránið Freyja, while attending her father’s wedding, unwittingly informs a journalist from Séð og heyrt (an Icelandic gossip magazine) about the disappearance of Jónsbók (a medieval Icelandic book of Laws), the kidnapping of animals from the Zoo, and about Bergþór, a former convict who is the children’s ‘babysitter’. Freyja’s narrative is continuous, whereas Glódís’ story is interrupted by the police’s comments (which are in italics). The stories are all divided into several short chapters, most of which recount a single incident connected to the main storyline. Thus the narration is tightly controlled, as it needs to be with many plotlines to draw together to a conclusion, and concentration is demanded from the reader as the excitement mounts. At the end all loose ends are neatly tied, which is something I imagine young readers (who are usually very particular) will appreciate. In B10 you could argue that the narration is linear; as far as style goes, it is almost like a sprint. From the start we are made aware that the conclusion of the story will depend on the attainment of two goals, one being the Confirmation of the central character, Hallgerður, the other the unveiling of a statue (which is something I will not explain, out of consideration for prospective readers). These two strands Yrsa weaves fantastically well together.
B10 differs somewhat from Yrsa’s other books in being aimed at teenagers rather than children, although one ought to be wary of such definitions. The friends Hallgerður and Sonja, who are of Confirmation age (14 in Iceland), are reluctantly looking after their younger siblings; usually this is an encumbrance but sometimes it is a bonus. Mobile phones are in constant use and texting plays its part. Boys hang about the two friends and not just to play ball games. Hallgerður and her sister Bríet live alone with their father, a long-time widower. He is incredibly bad at any kind of housekeeping (which is, perhaps, a bit of a cliché) and nearly every meal is a barbecue. As I said earlier, Yrsa is adept at bringing all kinds of social issues into the text, and the children’s vision of injustice in society is often amazingly simple, but true, as when their friends need money and Sonja says:
That would be great. That’s what it’s like with Dísa who lives next door to us. She is not exactly lucky. Her mum and dad are amazingly rich because they owned some fish in the sea. Just think about it. They were able to sell the fish, even before they caught them, for so much money that you’d think they had been paid in Italian liras. (68)
B10 ends brilliantly, with two very short, hilarious epilogues that draw together the ‘finish’ to the ‘sprint’ I mentioned earlier. The books’ plots become more complicated from one book to the next and Yrsa seems continually to improve her mastery of the form. Arngunnur Ýr’s black and white drawings are stylised and quite simple (B10 is not illustrated), fitting the text well and giving the books a cheerful image.
Yrsa’s books don’t take themselves too seriously, and in my view children and teenagers will find immense stimulation in these fast-paced, funny and, above all, well-written stories.
© Inga Ósk Ásgeirsdóttir, 2002. Translated by Björg Árnadóttir.
On individual works
Horfðu á mig (Someone to Watch Over Me)
Chadwick, Kristi: “Mystery”
Library Journal, Vol.140(1), p.73
"Someone to Watch Over Me"
Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXXXIII (2)
Aska (Ashes to Dust)
Jacobsen, Teresa: “Mystery”
Library Journal, Vol.137(4)
Sér grefur gröf (My Soul to Take)
Taylor, Andrew: “A Choice of Crime Novels”
The Spectator, Jun 20, 2009
Þriðja táknið (Last Rituals)
Vicarel, Jo: “Mystery”
Library Journal, Vol.132(14), p.112
Wilson, Frank: “A whodunit, with a Nordic touch”
McClatchy – Tribune Business News, Nov 25, 2007
2015 - The Drop of Blood, the Icelandic crime writers‘ prize: DNA
2011 - The Drop of Blood, the Icelandic crime writers‘ prize: Ég man þig (I Remember You)
2003 - The Icelandic Children's Book Prize: Biobörn (Biochildren)
2000 - The Icelandic IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Award: Við viljum jólin í júlí (We Want Christmas in July)
2017 – The Drop of Blood, the Icelandic crime writers‘ prize: Aflausn (Absolution)
2011 - The Glass Key, the Nordic crime writers‘ prize: Ég man þig (I Remember You)
Gættu þinna handa (Watch Where You Going)Read moreLögregluteymið sem Yrsa Sigurðardóttir kynnti til sögunnar í bók sinni Lok lok og læs snýr hér aftur og rannsakar flókið mál
Gatið (The Hole)Read more
The undesiredRead more
Aflausn (Absolution)Read more
Sogið (The Vortex)Read more
Lygi (Lie)Read more
Bien mal acquisRead more