Someone To watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – Thora Gudmundsdottir #5
Translated by Philip Roughton
My own copy from tbr pile
A creepy, compelling thriller, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME is the fifth Thora Gudmundsdottir novel from Yrsa, ‘Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson’ (Daily Telegraph).
A young man with Down’s Syndrome has been convicted of burning down his care home and killing five people, but a fellow inmate at his secure psychiatric unit has hired Thora to prove that Jakob is innocent.
If he didn’t do it, who did? And how is the multiple murder connected to the death of Magga, killed in a hit and run on her way to babysit?
This is #5 in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series. I initially picked it to read, because of its unique synopsis. A young male (Jakob) accused of a violent and fatal crime, but also a character central to the story with downs syndrome. I was intrigued to see how the author would tackle the themes of learning difficulties, in a crime fiction novel. I was not disappointed, at all. What I got was a snapshot into life in a secure psychiatric unit and Thora’s relentless quest for justice.
The novel opens with an eerie scene of a young boy (4yrs) seemingly being haunted by a spirit. It immediately gave me goose bumps and I wondered how much of the novel would contain a supernatural element.
In January 2010, Thora is requested to visit Josteinn Karlsson. He is an inmate at a secure psychiatric unit Sogn; with seven other patients. Josteinn is a prolific child abuser, certified guilty but insane. He has been diagnosed with acute schizophrenia and personality disorders. He has resided at Sogn for 8yrs now and Thora wonders why he would suddenly request her assistance. She informs Josteinn she cannot help with his case, that it is entirely beyond her remit. However, it isn’t her case he wants her to investigate. . .
‘He’s my friend. A good friend’ – Josteinn
Josteinn wishes for her to investigate the case of fellow patient/inmate Jakob. Who is remanded to Sogn due to an act of arson, that left five people dead. Josteinn claims Jakob is innocent, because he knows what it takes to commit such a heinous act and he believes Jakob to be innocent.
Reluctantly, Thora takes the case. She begins her investigation by talking to Jakob’s mother Grimheidur Porjarnardottir. Jakob’s mother brings Thora up to speed, on how she has raised Jakob and the authoritarian approach social services has had over their lives. I found this to be very true to life. There have been multiple cases in the British press; where adults with care needs enter a residential setting against the parents wishes, only for there to be an incident of harm to them or others. Jakob’s mother also sheds light upon a life of little support, being dictated to and not listened to. He was at the sheltered accommodation, only 16 months before the fire occurred.
‘Their so called support was just the opposite: you never got what you wanted, and you never wanted what you got’ – Grimheidur Porjarnardottir
Thora begins to investigate the residential setting, going into business and patient’s records. The setting was a new-build, designed for five residents aged between 18yrs-25ys. The home’s residents had a wide-range of needs. Lisa was a comatose patient. Sigridur was blind and deaf. Natan was severely epileptic and heavily medicated at night. Tryggvi was severely autistic and never left his room. All perished in the fire, along with the night watchman.
But what was life really like inside the setting? How can Thora get to the truth when the patients are deceased?
‘A sheltered community should be a safe haven for the unfortunate, like a fortress to protect the most needy and vulnerable members of society. But that was clearly not the case. What had actually happened there?’
When Thora digs into the post mortem of resident Lisa, she will uncover a shocking case of abuse.Was the fire to cover up the abuse of a disabled resident?
Was it really Jakob that set the fire?
Thora also begins to receive cryptic random text messages, that are drip fed into the narrative as clues. We the reader, come to understand what they mean, before Thora. At this point I was literally screaming at the kindle. The tension and stakes were THAT high!
Thora questions the motives of Josteinn throughout. Why would a outwardly soulless man care for the future of Jakob’s plight?
‘I can promise you that I have only bad intentions’ – Josteinn
Every book brings something unique, but what this book brings is an honest portrayal of a wide-range of characters with additional needs. I think the author did a brilliant job of the portrayal of the shady people that can be involved in the care of society’s most vulnerable. The cast of residents is written incredibly well, especially the character Tryggvi. My son is autistic, so I rarely read novels with this condition. But when I do I like to see the needs portrayed as accurately as possible, which the author fully achieved.
A cracking crime fiction thriller and I applaud the author for her accurate and inclusive cast of characters. 5*