I’ve read most, if not all, of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novels that have been translated into English. Most of her novels, save one, are about Icelandic lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and the cases she takes.
Someone To Watch Over Me is set in Iceland and the backdrop of the story is the financial crisis that destroyed much of Iceland’s economy. At the start of the novel, Thóra’s parents come to her because they’ve lost all their money and want to move in with her. Thóra’s house is already full, with her children, plus her grandchild and her boyfriend (Matthew, he’s German and we meet him early on in the series). But because Thóra loves her parents, she lets them move in.
One of the things I enjoy about Sigurðardóttir’s series is that she gives us not only the crime.case that Thóra is working on, but glimpses on Thóra’s life at home as well. The first couple of books in the series are the best, especially because Sigurðardóttir mixed the traditional crime novel with domestic life of a family and added lots of humor. Sadly, there’s not quite as much humor in the latter titles.
That’s not to say that Someone To Watch Over Me isn’t an entertaining or interesting read, because it is. Though it’s a slow burn and the reveal doesn’t come near the end — too close, really — the novel is interesting and once it gets going, Sigurðardóttir keeps the pace high.
The case that Thóra takes is an old one. She’s asked to reopen a murder and arson investigation that happened some years prior. A fired burned up a home for disabled adults and a young man with Down’s Syndrome, Jakob, has been imprisoned for it, though he was ruled as mentally incompetent (I believe). Instead of throwing facts at us or not doing her research, Sigurðardóttir makes sure that Thóra is aware of her shortcomings in knowledge about mentally and physically disabled persons in general as well as Down’s Syndrome specifically. Through Thóra, we’re given a brief history of disabilities in Iceland, including what has and hasn’t changed. This information is given both all in one go, and scattered throughout the conversations Thóra has with people involved in the case.
Throughout the novel, we’re given chapters that focus on different crimes, all of them related to Jakob’s case, but neither we, nor Thóra (when she discovers them) know how they’re related. We follow the story of a young mother and her family who believe they’re haunted by the ghost, a young man who runs a radio program, the psychopath who hired Thóra to look into Jakob’s case as well as other people as they come up in Thóra’s investigations.
Of course, Sigurðardóttir treats all her characters well and makes them interesting, but none of them have the depth that Thóra does, if only because she’s our main character. My biggest complaint is that Sigurðardóttir tends to include a bit of repetition within Thóra’s life; especially related to her parents, Matthew and her terrible secretary, Bella. These are problems in all of her novels, not just this one, and are easily overlooked because the case is so interesting.
In spite of the slow burn and my other minor complaints, I enjoyed Someone To Watch Over Me. The story — was Jakob innocent and if he is, who started the fire at the home — is compelling and the cast of characters who could have started the fire was long. Thóra’s investigations were interesting and I always enjoy the way she doggedly, but in her own way, manages to get the truth. She’s a smart woman and doesn’t let anything, even her relative lack computer skills, get her down.
Like her previous Thóra novels, Sigurðardóttir manages to balance Thóra’s home life with the cases she’s working on. I would recommend this book only if you’ve read the others, as some of it wouldn’t make sense. I can’t vouch that the information about disabilities and the disabled in Iceland is correct, but I have no reason to believe it’s not.
If you like crime novels and are looking for something different than the traditional police procedural, I would recommend the first of Sigurðardóttir’s Thóra Gudmundsdóttir novels: Last Rituals.