The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
My own copy from tbr pile
Aldis is working in a juvenile detention centre in rural Iceland. She witnesses something deeply disturbing in the middle of the night; soon afterwards, two of the boys at the centre are dead.
Decades later, single father Odinn is looking into alleged abuse at the centre following the unexplained death of the colleague who was previously running the investigation. The more he finds out, though, the more it seems the odd events of the 1970s are linked to the accident that killed his ex-wife. Was her death something more sinister?
Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a huge European bestseller both with her crime and horror novels. You might want to sleep with the light on after reading THE UNDESIRED . . .
I have recently read The Reckoning, which is #2 in The Children’s House series of novels. I have also read and absolutely LOVED, why did you lie? So, I was intrigued to read Sigurdardottir’s back catalogue of novels. This novel appealed to me, due to its themes of juvenile detention and eerie/horror thrills. I like a good scare occasionally. I actually put this down at one point, reading alone at night as it began to freak me out!
So, when it says it has eerie moments, it is not lying!
‘Someone always gets punished when a crime is committed, but not always the guilty party’ – Aldis
The novel opens at the end quite an unusual start. It opens with the death of Odinn, in his car via poisonous fumes, as he thinks of his daughter Run. It is quite Vague, which I liked. I didn’t know if this was a murder, I can only assume due to the cover that it was so. But assuming anything, with one of Sigurdardottir’s novels is your first mistake!
We then meet Odinn, very much alive and prior to his sealed fate. He works for a committee that is investigating potential historical case in residential settings. He has been assigned the case of the Krokur care home for delinquent boys, to investigate its practices in the 1970s. Odinn has been assigned this case after his work colleague died at her desk, of a heart attack. The committee is under great stress and Odinn must continue to investigate despite no allegations have been alleged.
We learn more about Odinn personal, that he is a single father to his daughter Run. That his ex-wife Lara recently fell to her death from her window. This tragic accident left his young daughter (11yrs) traumatised and Odinn has her attending counselling to deal with the grief.
The novel then jumps back in time to 1974. Where we meet Aldis as she begins work at Krokur. There are currently seven boys and a new arrival pending. The boys are aged 13-16yrs old and have committed relatively minor crimes. Things that nowadays wouldn’t be considered subject to such harsh punishment. Although nobody should be subject to the punishment dished out at Krokur. The owners are a couple named Lilja and Veigar, they are recovering from the loss of their stillborn baby. Krokur is based in a remote location, SW of Reykjaner peninsula, meaning staff rarely get to leave. The owners are bizarre and their behaviour serves to become more and more alarming! Hakon, Malli and Steini are the three male members of staff that board with Aldis. Everything about Krokur just screams ‘get me out of here’. I simply don’t know how Aldis withstood it.
It is through the arrival of new ‘inmate’ Einar we learn more of Aldis’s background. As she begins to form quite a strong bond with the new young man. She is eager to know what crime he has committed to land him at Krokur but staff do not have access to the boys files. The boys dormitory is locked at night, there are bars amongst the windows and they are surely given the full ‘prison experience’. But if the boys are locked in every night, who is it that the owners claim to have seen on the grounds at night. Does Krokur have its own prowler? If so, what do they hope to achieve?
As Odinn continues to dig into Roberta’s files, he finds mis-matched information and from what he can understand Krokur seemed to offer humane care. That is until he uncovers the two deaths by ‘accident’ and digs deeper into their personal history. At the same time he begins to personally investigate Lara’s alleged accident. He hopes that if he can understand some of the facts, he can help his daughter come to terms with her loss. Run’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and she claims her mother in angry with her in heaven.
‘Perhaps the day of reckoning had come’ – Odinn
Odinn eventually manages to track down one of the former residents and one of the former owners of Krokur. I couldn’t wait to read their point of view and found myself racing through the pages, at rapid speed. Odinn also uncovers some threatening emails in Roberta’s computer. Somebody didn’t want this home under investigation. But why? Was Roberta’s death an accident or something more sinister?
‘Bloody nosy bitch
leave well alone
or You’ll regret it’
Aldis is caught in a power cut with one of the young boys Tobbi. After she catches him in the cellar. The entire incident gave me goosebumps! I cannot accurately describe it, but it is such an eerie sinister moment in the whole book!
It left me putting the book, down for the night, to prevent nightmares.
Odinn interviews Pytti at the Hladgerdarkot treatment centre. He is introduced to the man, via Kegga one of the staff at the centre. She gives Odinn some of Pytti’s history. It becomes clear this is a man that has consistently struggled with his past. Leading him down a never ending path of addiction and suffering. Pytti informs Odinn that he spent 11 months at Krokur for breaking a window at school. He tells of the appalling conditions, of no education, enforced labour and bible study. He also remarks about the physical and verbal abuse withstood.
But maintains that Lilja was the worst of the bunch. . .
“It doesn’t alter the fact that if you want to look after children properly you have to love them. And people seem incapable of that” – Kegga
In 1974, Aldis begins to snoop further and further into the owner’s office. Determined to uncover something she knows has been kept from her, along the way, discovering more truths.
‘Her mother had once told her that those who eavesdrop never hear well of themselves’ – Aldis
Odinn prepares to meet an elderly Lilja at the geriatric ward. Unknowing this will be the interview that not only unravels the case but unravels his entire life.
No one and nothing is as it seems
This novel has a fantastic ending that leaves you in utter disbelief! I couldn’t believe how many clues I had failed to pick up upon. The author clearly had me, the reader in the palm of her hand. I was so distracted by the various characters stories and spooky episodes. That I completely missed how it all interconnected.
Breath-taking ending 5*