Yrsa Sigurdardottir - Gallows Rock
"...a psychological thriller of immense power that packs a sucker punch... "
On a jagged, bleak lava field just outside Reykjavik stands the Gallows Rock. Once a place of execution, it is now a tourist attraction. Until this morning, when a man was found hanging from it.
The nail embedded in his chest proves it was not suicide. But when the police go to his flat, a further puzzle awaits them: a four-year-old boy has been left there. He doesn't seem to have any link with the victim, his parents cannot be found, and his drawings show he witnessed something terrible.
As detective Huldar hunts the killer, and child psychologist Freyja looks for the boy's parents, the mystery unfolds to reveal a story of violence, entitlement and revenge.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir is known for her darkly woven stories and labyrinthine plots and does not disappoint with 'Gallows Rock', the fourth in the series featuring Freyja and Huldar. As the layers of this novel are slowly unravelled, the evil people inflict on each other are revealed in the Queen of Icelandic Noir's trademark style.
I am a huge fan of Yrsa's work. Freyja and Huldar are an unlikely pairing, but they work incredibly well together. It isn't often they are actually together in this plot, but when they are, the chapters, and the characters come alive and tension between the two crackles. Huldar, despite his colourful past, is deeply attracted to Freyja. She, however, isn't interested and tries every trick she knows to block his advances. This interplay is often featured in crime fiction novels between two lead characters, but there is no cliché tropes here. Yrsa's richly drawn characterisations make these two genuinely likeable and real. They're fully rounded people, not simply characters in a book. You feel as if you know them, that's the power of Yrsa's writing.
The same can be said for the rest of the main players Huldar and Freyja work with. Without extraneous chapters where we see characters at home in their dull lives to get a sense of their personal lives, Yrsa weaves their backgrounds into the story and the conversations they have with each other. A chat between Huldar and Gudlaugur in the incident room reveals more than a whole chapter would by any other writer. It's this sublime attention to detail in characterisation that makes Yrsa a powerful writer.
'Gallows Rock' is a pitch dark story which will keep the reader guessing until the final pages. It's a psychological thriller of immense power that packs a sucker punch of a reveal into the insights of the human psyche.
Reviewed by: M.W.