The Absolution is the third installment in Queen of Icelandic crime fiction Yrsa Sigurdard�ttir’s series about the psychologist Freyja and the police officer Huldar.
The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows a terrified young woman begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number “2”.
Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager’s friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim, but who could have hated her enough to kill?
Then another teenager goes missing, more clips are sent to social media, and the body with a “3” is found. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. The killer is not done yet. And is there an undiscovered body carrying the number “1” out there?
Content/Trigger warnings: bullying, cyberbullying, suicide attempts.
Sixteen-year-old Stella has just finished her shift working in the cinema. She lets her workmates know her boyfriend is coming to drive her home and they happily leave her in their hurry to catch their bus home. While Stella is waiting alone and refreshing herself in the bathroom, she receives a snapchat image of herself from a stranger, and then she hears footsteps… A tall broad-shouldered man wearing a Darth Vader mask makes a video of terrified Stella who he forces to repeat ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry’, begging for mercy, and sends it to all her contacts.
When the police hear from Stella’s frantic boyfriend who was late by ten minutes and also received the videos, they start looking for Stella. The footage from the CCTV cameras leaves them little hope she’ll be found alive. Among other witnesses, the police hear from Stella’s close friends and it becomes clear that the girls are hiding something.
The series has two protagonists: Detective Huldar, smart, good-looking, messed-up, and a child psychologist Freyja who works in Children’s Home and is used to dealing with traumatised children and adolescents. Freyja notices a girl, Stellas’ classmate, who seems to have a different reaction to the news of Stella’s murder. It turns out the girl was severely bullied by the angelic Stella and her clique. When Freyja suggests checking out this angle, the police are not convinced. Stella’s body is found lying in a car park and there is a piece of paper with number 2 underneath. Does it mean there is Victim Number 1 whose body is lying somewhere? and where is Egill, another teenager whose abduction was accompanied by harrowing Snapchat videos?
One of my favourite books of all time is ‘Cat’s eye’ by Margaret Atwood. Among other brilliantly explored topics, it deals with the psychology of a bully, possible reasons and consequences of becoming one. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir focuses on a different aspect: the effect bullying has on the victims’ parents. In her attempts to help the investigation, Freyja reaches to her own childhood and adolescence experience of being bullied and the effort it took to pull through that period of her life. She knows getting qualified professional help is vital, but how often schools do not look too closely into suspicious incidents, hoping the children ‘will work their differences out’? how often tired and overworked teachers do not know how to deal with the situation or inadvertedly miss the signals until the situation becomes desperate? We live in the world where technology has given bullies more ways to harass and abuse weaker ones. It is important to be aware of cyberbullying and do everything possible to report and stop it.
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir rightly (and necessarily) points out, nobody (even the worst kind of bully) deserves to become a victim of horrific violence and murder described in the book, and the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, but it isn’t easy to break the vicious circle which changes and scars everybody involved. A bully may become bullied and vice versa, as the brilliant ending to this gripping novel shows. There is also help and understanding you can reach for in people like Freyja who know how to listen and care to act.
This is my first book by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, but it won’t be the last. The topic of this well-plotted and well-written police procedural was dark and painful, and this is why I included possible trigger warnings at the beginning of this review. Still, it was an absorbing and thought-provoking read, and I will be looking forward to future books written by this talented author.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Have you read The Absolution or any other books by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir?
- Do you like reading Nordic Noir? If yes, who are your favourite authors?