Yrsa’s pins and foxes

My Soul To Take (Harper, 15.99)

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
There is pleasure in reading a well constructed murder mystery. The beginning punctuated by minor incidents and details that seem no more than background and setting but, by the end, are crucial to the solving of the mystery.
A well written novel doesn´t trick the reader by withholding information. Instead, the evidence is there in the story and, as the story unfolds, the reader, along with the detective, can fit the pieces of the puzzle together. The skill and talent of the author is in the creating of the puzzle, in the pacing of the information, in the creating of suspense. Done right and the book is a page turner, a book a reader doesn´t want to put down.
My Soul To Take by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir fits the bill.
Her novel begins with a crime being committed in the distant past as a little girl is lowered down a hole to her death. The novel then shifts into the present in which a current murder occurs. Then a second murder occurs in the present. The murder in the distant past is known to the reader but not to the lawyer/detective.  As the original story of the little girl threads its way through the present events, it give the novel a heart. By the time we reach the end of the novel we are prepared to weep along with Lara for a tragedy that has occurred many years before
Thora Gudmundsdöttir, the lawyer with an insatiable curiosity and a determination to know why and how things happen, is an interesting type of detective. Her life is complicated by her being a single mother with two children, an ex –husband, and a German boyfriend who doesn’t speak Icelandic. Her personal relationships add both a sense of pathos and hilarity. The children, with their natural self-involvement, are not the slightest bit interested in either their mother’s work as a lawyer or as a solver  of crimes. They are more concerned with having to listen to a father who thinks he’s a great Karaoke singer.
What makes this novel particularly Icelandic isn’t just the setting but also the use of Icelandic folk lore. The folk lore isn’t just background colour but an essential part of the story.
For example, the both Thora and the reader are mystified by the details of foxes and pins only to have their importance revealed little by little  until it is obvious that they are crucial to the unraveling of the mystery.
As a reader, I appreciate the flashes of humour created by the inclusion of minor characters such as the sex therapist who works at the resort where the murders take place. Yrsa even uses her boyfriend Mathew’s not knowing Icelandic as a plot element and a device for adding levity. Nothing is wasted in Yrsa’s novels for both the sex therapist and Mathew, Thora’s boyfriend, have a role to play in the plot.
The opening of the novel is heart wrenching but I didn’t let that keep me from reading the rest of the story. Thank goodness, for as a reader of murder mysteries, I was intrigued by how the author handled plot, setting and character and how, gradually, a complex puzzle was finally assembled. Yrsa, in her day job, is an engineer, and it is obvious that she is used to fitting complex structures together.
I’d add this My Soul To Keep to my list of books by Icelandic authors to put under the Christmas tree.
(If you are in Gimli, Manitoba, all of Yrsa’s novels can be found at Tergesent’s bookstore.)

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Icelandic Hollywood film producer Sigurjón Sighvatsson, whose portfolio boasts more than 40 movies and television series, has secured the movie rights to Yrsa Sigurdardóttir´s 2010 crime thriller Ég man thig (I remember you).
The sale of the movie rights has put her in the spotlight again but, in spite of how busy she is with her multi-faceted life, she came to the University of Victoria to give three lecturers as a Richard and Beck lecturer.
Yrsa is multi-talented. Most writers of prize winning murder mysteries would find that a full-time profession. Instead, Yrsa also writes books for children. More surprising than that and what intrigued an over-flow audience was that she is also an engineer and writes in her spare time. It was in  her role as an engineer that she gave one of the lectures. She explained how Iceland‘s topography and natural resources combined to put Iceland at the forefront of the world‘s attempt to create and harness green energy. Large geo-thermal and hydro-electric projects have taxed both the imagination and the resources of a country with a population of just three hundred and twenty thousand.
In North America, Yrsa is best known for her adult fiction. He second lecture was on „Nordic Noir and the Writing of Crime Fiction“. Yrsa discussed the sudden, surprising emergence of Scandinavian crime fiction. She talked about what characteristics unite—and distinguish—the writers involved and what explains the world-wide popularity of their work. Yrsa also offered some „how to“ hints for aspiring crime writers.
Interest in Yrsa‘s work has grown with the purchase of movie rights. „When the author and her publisher Pétur Már Ólafsson at Veröld, were guests on RÚV´s Rás 2 radio morning show, Olafsson said he had been certain from the start that the book would be filmed but had decided not to accept any offers until the book had been translated into English.
“But when a man who has worked with Robert De Niro, Nicholas Cage and Natalie Portman comes calling, you pick up the phone, don’t you?”, he said.
“The work on the screenplay has begun but many things are still undecided. It is possible that the film will be shot in Iceland and that parts of it, or even the entire film, will be in the Icelandic language.
“What appeals to Sigurjón is namely the Icelandic landscape. This is what makes it so special […] but  naturally, at the same time, the story itself knows no natural borders,” Olafson continued. “So what he sees in it is a uniquely Icelandic international thriller.”
Sigurdardóttir herself said that she will not be invovled in the adaptation—she has complete faith in the screenplay writers. “It is a special genre of writing,” she explained. “But I look forward to reading it and mostly I look forward to seeing the movie.”
“According to visir.is, Sighvatsson has hired Icelandic screen writer Ottó Geir Borg for the job.
One of the films Sighvatsson has produced, Wild At Heart (1990), as directed by David Lynch, earned the Golden Palm in Cannes.
“In addition to the aforementioned actors, Sighvatsson has worked with Hollywood big shots such as Harrison Ford and Jeff Bridges.
“Sighvatsson is not the first film producer to express an interest in Sigurdardóttir´s stories. The German film production company Team Worx Television & Film GmbH bought the movie rights to…Ashes To Dust“.
If members of your family enjoy reading murder mysteries, they might enjoy finding a novel by Yrsa under the tree on Christmas morning. There are four in English to choose from: Last Rituals, My Soul To Take, Ashes to Dust, and The Day Is Dark.
(Quotes with permission of IcelandReview.com. A slightly different form of this article first appeared in Lögberg-Heimskringla. This is the 125th anniversary of LH. Consider celebrating her birthday by buying a subscription.)