Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is one of my ‘must read’ writers. Her series featuring lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir has been consistently strong with solid plots that provide a clear-eyed view of modern Iceland. The last book I reviewed was a departure for Yrsa. I Remember You was a supernatural thriller that, while enjoyable, didn’t feel quite as innovative as her crime books. However her latest offering, Someone to Watch Over Me, is a return to form and another Scandinavian book that deals with the devastating effect of fire.
Jakob, a young man with Down’s syndrome is convicted of starting a fire that burned down his care home, killing five people. He is sent to a psychiatric unit where one of his fellow inmates is convinced of his innocence. However, Josteinn is psychopath who repulses those he comes into contact with. Thora is reluctant to take on the case but soon becomes convinced that a cover-up has taken place and that the murderer is still at large. However, a key witness is suffering from locked-in syndrome and struggles to communicate the true version of events of the fateful fire.
Part of the charm of this series is the way in which the personality of Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is allowed to direct the narrative. We get a strong sense of Thora’s personal struggle with the official version of events, the way in which the police investigation is handled and the problems associated in dealing with a client who is a multiple murderer. All of this shapes the course of events as Thora digs deeper into the past. I was initially concerned about yet another portrayal of a victim with locked-in syndrome. It is such a rare illness and yet is seems to pop up with relative ease in crime novels. However, here it was handled well and there are no easy solutions for the victim.
The book gives a fairly damning portrait of social service care in Iceland. Patients with multiple and differing needs are lumped together in institutions that fail to adequately care for patients. It is left to families to try to unlock solutions to their children’s conditions and in this atmosphere poor judgements are made.
The book is an excellent read in a series that goes from strength to strength.