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by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir and Victoria Cribb, trans.
Minotaur, January 2019
480 pages
ISBN: 1250136261

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In the 1987 Prologue to the Icelandic thriller THE LEGACY, author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir presents a heart-wrenching scene of young children being separated from siblings because of unexplained family trauma. Then a page announces it is 2015 and the murder mystery begins. Eventually, the author explains the connection to these earlier events, but throughout the book, the meaning and implications of these Prologue scenes hover in the atmosphere.

Yrsa is skilled at creating sympathetic characters that get under your skin—and then having them murdered in horrific and fantastical ways. The only witness to the mind-boggling destruction of a young mother is her seven-year-old daughter Margrét, who was hiding under the bed while her mother was being brutalized. The child will not talk about what she may have seen and heard, and psychologist Freyja is wary of pushing the traumatized child too hard. The police, led by detective Huldar, are impatient to have the child tell what she knows, and there is the inevitable clash between the police and the child welfare workers.

Then another woman is murdered, not in the same way but in another sadistic and horrible fashion. This second woman seems to have no connections at all to the first, except that in both cases cryptic messages were left where the police would find them. These messages seem to point to the idea that one murderer has committed both crimes.

As these murders and the murder investigation are unfolding, we read about a young man Karl Petursson, a some-time chemistry student who is obsessed with shortwave radios. He is a loner who has only two friends in the world, both fellow radio enthusiasts. Karl has a difficult life. His mother has just died and he is estranged from his only other relative, an older brother. Recently, he has been listening to a weird broadcast. He tries to decipher a code, a string of numbers that someone is broadcasting and works out that they are actually someone's identification numbers. And then he recognizes his own number. Other strange things begin to happen to him, but he cannot figure out if they are related.

In a tangled web of old connections, the perpetrator of these murders and his twisted logic for doing them become clear. It is easy to see why the Icelandic Crime Authors' Association honored THE LEGACY with "Best Crime Novel of the Year." Some may find the author's descriptions of the chillingly sick ways the murderer kills his victims difficult to read, but plowing through them in this complex, well-written and engrossing mystery—the first in an announced trilogy—is highly recommended.

§ Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, January 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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