The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Victoria Cribb (translator)

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The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Victoria Cribb (translator)

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Spooks seem to reign in this book of two different investigations regarding a 1970's children's home. But in the end it's the mystery that works, as opposed to any straight ghost story elements.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781473605497

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If you're lucky enough to go to Iceland they will tell you, even in this day and age, that the place is heavily populated with trolls. Yrsa Sigurdardottir may or may not agree with that, but she certainly peoples her world with ghosts. Here is Odinn, and to some extent his ghost – certainly there's the ghost of 'what if' around him, and the man he might have been if he hadn't abandoned the young mother of his child. Here is that very wife, who is now dead herself. Here is the spirit of failure as he takes over a job at work from someone else who had a fatal heart attack – that task, to investigate a children's care home in the 1970s to see if anything nefarious went on. And that place certainly should be haunted – already a dead child has been disposed of, and more is to come…

Having said that, of the two Ms Sigurdardottir books I've read this is the least haunted. Yes, there are spooks and thrills – the ending of chapter nine, for example, is being used as an excerpt to publicise the book and boy it works, both in context and in isolation. There are certainly ghosts here, phantoms galore in fact in people's minds if nowhere else, but the book is certainly not as full-on horrific as before. Instead we get something more akin to a procedural, as Odinn tackles the tasks he must face in this day and age – corporate-style meetings, office politics, data protection laws, and the fact he is now a full-time father – to look at what his predecessor found about the activities at the home.

The story alternates practically every chapter from the present to the past, and both strands are definitely fulfilling – as is the inevitable test to see how we can piece them together. Aldis is a great character in the 1970s – a young adult, an innocent abroad, struggling to live through her time working at the home with attentive, hormonal teenaged boys and quite horrid bosses. What she has to discover is quite different to that Odinn faces, but no less interesting for the passage of time.

My final verdict is that this book might not be quite as memorable as I had hoped, but is no less successful for being a little more understated than I had expected. The potential buyer should not worry about the care home situation – the book is not entirely about the horrors such an institution could provide. Nor should you expect too strong a fright in the modern day, even if there are lots of little creepy crawly factors and situations niggling at Odinn. What we do get instead is an ever-readable mystery, with great characters situated at opposite ends of the same problem, nibbling away at it in their own individual ways until they get to the centre. The drive of the switching narrative is great, and the book is compelling in looking at wonderful characters as they go about their haunted business. To repeat, a lack of the total grimness and isolation this author has provided before now may be a disappointment to some, but the intrigue is still here, and this is still worthy of a recommendation.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is the one to turn to for sheer shocking darkness from this author.

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