Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Review: Last Rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Last Rituals

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Hodder & Stoughton, 2007 (2005)

At a university in Reykjavík, the body of a young German student is discovered, his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. Police waste no time in making an arrest, but the victim's family isn't convinced that the right man is in custody. They ask Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn't long before Thóra and her associate, Matthew Reich, uncover the deceased student's obsession with Iceland's grisly history of torture, execution, and witch hunts. But there are very contemporary horrors hidden in the long, cold shadow of dark traditions. And for two suddenly endangered investigators, nothing is quite what it seems . . . and no one can be trusted.

Last Rituals starts out with a particularly grisly discovery - the body of German student Harald, minus the eyes, lolling out of a storage cupboard in a professor's office. Back in Germany, Harald's family aren't convinced that their son's friend and drug dealer is to blame for the murder, and ask Thóra to investigate.

Thóra works as an attorney at a tiny firm in Reykjavik, and Harald's case takes her way outside of her comfort zone. She and Matthew, a German man working for Harald's family, attempt to crack open the case, delving deeper into the history of witchcraft and witch hunts that so fascinated Harald and formed the basis of his obsessive research.

There are a few decent red herrings along the way, and the history of witchcraft was interesting, although I quite often wanted to find out more than just the names and dates of various bishops and monks. Thóra was quite a complex main character - alongside the investigation, she has to deal with her ex-husband and her two children (one of whom is involved in a little interesting side plot of their own), and there were quite a few flashes of domestic life which gave the character more layers. I felt a little bit detached from her at points - I'm not sure you ever properly get inside her head - but that wasn't a huge problem as the plot kept me hooked for the majority of the book.

There were a couple of flat points when things didn't seem to be moving along, and sometimes it seemed like a new character would be brought in with a new discovery, only for it to falter (the cleaning women, for example). The ending was a surprise to me, but rather than a clever unravelling of evidence it seemed quite straightforward - this definitely didn't feel like a novel where the reader is left clues, but rather one that you watch unfold in front of you.

For the most part, a solid crime thriller, and I will probably go back to Sigurðardottír at some point.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library

This book counts towards my 2013 Translation Challenge.

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