Sigurdardóttir’s work (The Day Is Dark, 2013, etc.) has always drawn on both kinds of mysteries—detective stories in which everything is explained rationally and supernatural thrillers in which it isn’t—but this tale of a series of disappearances grounded in long-simmering revenge mixes the two more inextricably than ever before.
Freyr, a consulting psychiatrist who’s been called to the scene of a schoolroom that’s been vandalized, finds nothing unusual about the way it’s been trashed and defaced by the word “dirty,” until he learns that the same thing happened to the same room 60 years ago. This apparent coincidence is rendered even more uncanny when Halla, a pensioner who was traumatized as a schoolchild by the earlier incident, hangs herself from a church ceiling—and when Freyr and his lover, Dagný, a police detective, learn of the high mortality rate among Halla’s classmates, none of whom died from natural causes. Meanwhile, in remote Hesteyri, an unemployed Reykjavík MBA, his schoolteacher wife and their widowed friend, who plan to rehab a disused building as a guesthouse, have a series of increasingly creepy run-ins with what seems to be a young boy’s ghost. Crosscutting between the two stories, Sigurdardóttir counterpoints the progress of the investigation into the schoolroom vandalism and its implications with the deterioration of the relations among the three rehabbers, whose encounters with the ghost become more dangerous as they learn more and more unwelcome news about each other. By the time one of them vanishes, Freyr’s realization that the vandalism case, which you’d think would be altogether safer, is linked to his own diabetic son’s more recent disappearance turns his investigation into an anguished search for the truth of his own life.
A multilayered tale that builds slowly—the use of smells is especially effective—but drives to a shattering climax that honors the traditions of both detective fiction and ghost stories.