The Legacy - Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

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The Legacy - Yrsa Sigurdardóttir ***

** There are no spoilers in this review beyond the initial set-up and nature of the crime **

Were it not for the peculiarities of the crime and the clues, The Legacy would probably be quite a pedestrian read. Yrsa Sigurdardóttir's over-written descriptions are at least thorough and you get a very clear idea of how the case is progressing with regular summaries of the situation and lines of enquiry that are being followed up. You also get a tremendous amount of detail about the thought processes of each of the individuals and investigators concerned, as well as their personal disappointments and failures, their unsatisfying jobs and family relationships. That's a common thread in The Legacy, and you could say it has some bearing on the case, so there appears to be a valid reason for such a focus.

The one area that you aren't given quite as much detail - as you might expect at least initially - is in the motivation and identity of the killer of Elísa Bjarnadóttir. There are however several intriguing and unusual aspects to her murder and the revelations that subsequently come to light, not least of which is the manner of her killing by a vacuum cleaner. I'll spare you the details, but it's horrible. What is even more horrible is that Elísa's seven year old daughter Margrét is a witness to the brutal killing, hiding under the bed, hearing certain inexplicable exchanges between her mother and the killer before her gruesome death. Traumatised undoubtedly, the police team have to tread cautiously to tease any information out of the child, but time is not on their side as the killer has threatened to kill another woman.

The Reykjavík police, lead by detective Huldar, aren't making much progress with the clues and codes messages left behind by the killer, or tracing who is sending the warning texts. Even more strangely, heavily coded clues are being picked up by Karl, a young ham radio enthusiast, who is surprised to discover his own ID number among the other IDs and social security numbers being broadcast on a mysterious short-wave channel. What's the connection? Well, the opening prologue suggests that the whole case has got something to do with Karl's background. He and his brother Arnar were both adopted after a forgotten but evidently troubling incident involving their natural parents - both from different parents - and with a young girl was also adopted around the same time.

The connections are far from obvious, and the Reykjavík police have no great resources to probe deeply into pasts that have been kept well covered-up, nor a specialised code-breaking unit. Someone however is going to a lot of trouble to carry out a series of horrific murders involving household appliances not usually used for such a purpose. There's a fair amount of police procedural then in how the police follow up the various lines of enquiry, and some amount of professional and personal conflict between the police detectives assigned to the case. There's little in any of it however that seems out of the ordinary or even particularly interesting.

That however could be considered to be part of the point, and the use of household appliances as murder weapons does tend to put more emphasis on the 'domestic' nature of the crimes. Families can mean trouble, as Freyja knows. She works as the Child Psychologist who has been tasked with protecting Margrét and helping her open up about what she heard. Freyja has just come out of a bad relationship, she hasn't had much success with men since, and she is also living in a rundown apartment in an unsavoury part of town, minding the apartment of her brother who is currently doing time in prison.

As the first part in the Children's House series, one suspects that Freyja is going to continue to be a main player in Yrsa Sigurdardóttir's follow-ups to The Legacy, but inevitably Huldur and the local police force will also be a fixture, which could be a bit of a problem considering Freyja's 'history' with them. All of this, with an additional emphasis on children, does tie in with the idea of family connections and the problems that lie in the past waiting to resurface. That's not original, but it's a strong enough theme to work with, even if the final confrontations and revelations in The Legacy are staged rather hamfistedly. Fortunately, considering the nature of the crimes here and the characters involved, it would appear that Yrsa Sigurdardóttir has no shortage of imaginative ideas to present in future cases.

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The Legacy: Children's House Book 1 (Children's House series) by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 23rd March 2017

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