Friday, December 12, 2008

LAST RITUALS: YRSA SIGURDARDOTTIR








Harald Guntlieb, a wealthy German student, is found murdered in the University of Iceland's History department. The strange young man had a penchant for body piercing and other self mutilations, but after his death someone had gone a lot further and removed his eyes.
Hugi a young friend, and small time drug dealer, is arrested for the murder but Harald's wealthy family have doubts and send their security expert ex-policeman Matthew Reich to investigate. Matthew's grasp of the Icelandic language is limited therefore he enlists the help of  attractive lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir to conduct the enquiry. 
Harald had been researching into the history of witchcraft, the treatment of witches in Iceland, and had collected a group of fellow students into some kind of secret society. Thora and Matthew will delve into Harald's life and follow his trail across Iceland in a search of a motive and a solution to the crime.

Just when I had learned to spell Indridason along comes another fine Icelandic crime writer. Yrsa Sigurdardottir has written children's books in the past but Last Rituals is her debut crime novel. Let us hope there are many more to come because this book thrust itself way into contention as one of my most enjoyable reads of the year.
Yrsa has mastered the art of writing about brutal crimes, medieval torture, and tongue surgery but she breaks up the tension beautifully with humour and the details of mundane every day life. 
Throughout the book the sexual chemistry between Matthew and Thora fairly crackles, and the person who wrote the flap comments about the 'boorish ex-policeman Matthew Reich' has possibly never chatted up a thirty something divorced mother of two. Matthew seemed to me to be a conscientious investigator and someone who was just trying to tease Thora into a possible relationship.

Thora is a really intriguing character who is juggling her responsible job with being a good mother to her two children, Gylfi and Soley. There is an interesting sub plot running through the book as Gylfi, her son, is in a bad mood and has a problem that he is reluctant to discuss with Thora. 

It is theses numerous subplots and red herrings that make this novel such a pleasurable read. An old letter that has to be returned soon to a university in Denmark has gone missing. Harald's friends, Halldor a medical student who works part time in the morgue, Briet, a petite busty blonde, and Marta Mist, a fiery red head who intimidates the others, are acting mysteriously and possibly have information that they have not told the police. While in her office Thora is struggling to cope with the antics of Bella, the secretary from hell, who rather likes Matthew. 

Last Rituals blends lots of historical information with a modern day murder investigation and does it with a great deal of skill. Yrsa Sigurdardottir has produced a top quality crime fiction novel well up to the standards of other Nordic writers. 
I particularly liked Yrsa's sense of humour as when she has Thora regret her divorce not because of two years without sex but the fact she can no longer afford a cleaning lady. 
The subtlety of the narrative and dialogue are a tribute to the late Bernard Scudder, the translator. His early death was a great loss to Icelandic crime fiction and to the readers.
I will definitely be on the look out for the next novel from Yrsa Sigurdardottir.
You can read other reviews of Last Rituals here and here.

2 Comments:

OpenID maxine said...

Nice review, Norman. I very much enjoyed reading it, especially as I've recently read the book myself so memory is fresh enough to recall the impressions and incidents you describe.

3:27 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine, I did enjoy this and it was much lighter than I expected after the gruesome but gripping beginning.
I would certainly have been interested in watching a half trained medical student do the tongue operation. ;O)
I suspect they might have had more than one T shirt drenched in blood!!!!

7:02 AM  

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