Author: Yrsa Sigurdardottier (translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder)
Publisher: Hodder [this translation 2008, original edition 2005]
Length: 423 pages
Genre: Amateur Sleuth
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My rating: 4/5
One-liner: A book about a mutilated body shouldn’t be funny but this one is deliciously so.
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At the University of Iceland the mutilated body of student Harald Guntlieb tumbles onto one of his professors when the door to a small room is opened one morning. Police soon arrest Harald’s friend Dori, who they believe to have been his drug supplier, for the murder. However Harald’s family in Germany are unsatisfied with the investigation and send an investigator they know, Matthew Reich, to Iceland who teams up with a local lawyer, Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, to find what the police might have missed. Together they re-trace the steps Harald took during his research into the history of witchcraft and magic, believing that might have played a role in his death.
When Last Rituals won the ‘what shall I read next’ roulette wheel spin I dove in without even reading the blurb let alone taking another look at the reviews that must have prompted me adding it to the TBR pile in the first place. Consequently I wasn’t anticipating a funny book so the laughs generated by Thóra’s humorous and somewhat cynical internal monologue and her sarcastic bantering with Matthew were a wonderful surprise (and a tribute to the translator as I think linguistic humour must be a difficult thing to get right). Probably because I tend to have a similarly bent view of the world I really appreciated Thóra’s attitude which, though irreverent in some circumstances, never got in the way of her getting things done. She also demonstrated genuine backbone when it came to standing up for her son in the face of overwhelming disapproval and I found myself liking Thóra, and the overall tone of the book, very much.
The plot is a standard whodunit despite the macabre overtones provided by the mutilated body and the research topic chosen by Harald. His small group of friends, all part of a group devoted (at least part-time) to the performance of sorcery, provide a pool of potential suspects although I have to admit I didn’t find these characters quite as believable as the two main characters. However the fact that the case led Thóra and Matthew to discover interesting tidbits about Iceland’s history of dealing with witches and witchcraft was interesting (if a bit complicated at times).
Last Rituals is the author’s first adult novel (she also writes children’s books) and it’s quite a stellar debut. The characters and style are original and the plot is intricate but logical. I’m looking forward to more from Yrsa Sigurdardottier.
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