Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir’s sixth case (Someone to Watch Over Me, 2015, etc.) poses her a puzzle obviously inspired by the real-life 1872 case of the Mary Celeste—and fully worthy of its mysterious original.
The Lady K, a yacht seized from bankrupt businessman Gulam and sailed from Lisbon to Iceland by a skeleton crew, arrives in Reykjavík harbor without a soul aboard. There’s no trace of Capt. Thráinn or of his crew members, Halli and Loftur, or of Ægir, a member of the bank's resolution committee who made the trip with his wife, Lára, and their 4-year-old twin daughters, Arna and Bylgja. Despite the absence of any corpses, Ægir’s parents, Margeir Karelsson and Sigrídur Veturlidadóttir, want the insurance company to pay the hefty policy he took out, and they want the court to name them guardians of Sigga Dögg, their surviving 2-year-old granddaughter—an uphill battle, Thóra warns them. But she finds she can’t accept these commissions without discovering what actually became of Ægir and Lára and their shipmates. In alternating chapters, Sigurdardóttir follows Thóra’s painfully matter-of-fact investigation and goes back a few days to cover the Lady K’s ill-fated final voyage, as a series of escalating misfortunes—a tangle with a container from a neighboring ship, the loss of radio communications, grisly discoveries on and off the yacht—leads to a wholesale breakdown among the shipmates that turns the trip into a journey to hell.
The trick of alternating chapters between the present and the very recent past shouldn’t work, but it does, producing a tour de force capped by a haunting final scene that will linger in your mind long after the cumbersome explanation of how the trick was worked.