When I purchased Gallows Rock, for some reason I thought I was getting the second book in Sigurdardóttir’s Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series, but it was actually the fourth book in the Freyja and Huldar series. Oh well.
The body of a man is found hanging at a rock that was historically used for executions. Assuming it’s a suicide, the authorities just want the body removed as quickly as possible, because the Chinese delegation that is soon to arrive will be able to see it across the bay. No one can get up to release the knot, so the body is brought down rather haphazardly. Then they realize the death is not a suicide—the deceased has had a piece of paper stapled to his chest, although only a scrap of paper is still there.
It takes a while to identify the body as Helgi, a wealthy man who works in securities. While the police are struggling with that, Freyja, apparently some sort of social worker, is called to an apartment because a four-year-old boy is reported to have been left there alone. This apartment turns out to belong to Helgi, but the police can’t figure out who the child is. Once they finally identify him, they can’t figure out the connection between the boy and Helgi. In addition, his parents are missing.
Although this mystery is fairly complex, it’s the type that doesn’t provide enough clues for readers to figure it out. It focuses more on the police procedural aspect, even though it gives us enough glimpses into the doings of Helgi’s friends for us to know that something else is going on.
I felt that this novel seemed much less polished than the other Sigurdardóttir novel I read. It takes quite a while for the police to make any progress in their investigation. The characters aren’t very fully developed, perhaps because this has been done in previous books. But my main criticism has to do with the number of explanations of things that are probably self-explanatory, and the sheer number of details that have to be explained at the end, including things that haven’t been discussed before so no one really cares about. There was something clumsy in this.
The novel does have a final surprise, but even that is explained to death instead of being punched in to greater effect.
Finally, this is very picky and it’s not clear to me if it is a writing or a translation problem, but there is a lot of outdated slang, and one case where the word “verdict” is used incorrectly by the police, which I can’t imagine them doing.
Freyja’s link to the story is very weak. She’s essentially babysitting for most of the novel. As for Huldar, he’s such an appeaser at work that his behavior verges on the unprofessional.