Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

last ritualsLast Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir,
Translated by Bernard Scudder
William Morrow, 2007
Originally published as Þriðja táknið, 2005

I read this despite the marketing copy on the cover, and I’m glad I did. “An Icelandic novel of secret symbols, medieval witchcraft, and modern murder,” sounds like something a la Dan Brown, and that’s not my favorite kind of read. A professor discovers the gruesome corpse of a student from Germany, and the deceased’s family hires lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to be a sort of consultant to enable them to check on the Icelandic police investigation. She’s more than a translator, but her role is fairly murky. She seemed to act more as an additional police investigator or private investigator instead of a lawyer.

Last Rituals reminded me a bit of Elly Griffiths: a non-traditional main character, lots of folklore and history in the background, and a modern murder, yes. There was a lot of background exposition, but the writing felt brisk to me: I didn’t mind the backstory of the odd historical studies of the deceased, and the black magic and witchhunt portions of the story didn’t seem to be exploitative. Thora and Michael seemed pretty dispassionate about the kind of person the deceased was, and I think that was because the actual murder was so gruesome. I’m interested in seeing where this series goes.

I bought my copy of the book.

21 thoughts on “Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

  1. I’m very glad you liked this one, Rebecca. I thought it was really very well-done myself, and one of the things that I liked about it is the thread of wit that runs through it, despite the gruesomeness of the murder. I also like the balance of home/work life in this novel. And you’re right; the writing style moves along and keeps interest.

    • I did appreciate the wit too, Margot! It’s hard to mention it in this book without giving away the big developments in Thora’s personal life in this book…

  2. I’ve only read one of this series – out of order as usual! – and really enjoyed her writing. I loved Thora as a character too. I’ve been meaning to read the rest of the series ever since – thanks for the reminder to push these books up my priority list. 🙂

  3. I read this a while ago and definitely remember the humour. It seemed quite different from other rather gloomy Scandinavian novels I had read up to that point.

    • It’s definitely a switch from Indridason, the only other Icelandic author I’ve read. Have you read any of the others in the series?

  4. I must give her a try one day soon….a friend kind of put me off saying the main protagonist was annoying.

  5. I waited to comment because I wanted see if I had the book. Still don’t know for sure, but I think it is on my bookshelves somewhere. (It was a hectic weekend.) I look forward to trying it, and glad to hear it isn’t like Dan Brown novels. Thora’s part in the investigation sounds unusual and interesting.

    • Hope you enjoy it, Tracy! I found my copy buried in a folder on my Kindle after I brought it home from the library: my books aren’t totally organized, alas.

      • One of my goals before I go to my annual book sale is to catalog in some way what I have on Kindle, so I don’t duplicate. Doesn’t matter if I only pay a dollar, but still…

  6. I like this writer and this series, especially the protagonist. I’ve read two of them. Another was nominated for the Petrona award, but I couldn’t get it here.

    • I’m glad to hear that you think the series is good further along the line, Kathy. As for reading award-nominated books, I’m always a few years behind, and it’s because I like to start at the beginning of series when I can.

  7. Good to start series at the beginning. I’ve been introduced to so many series in the recent period that I’m overwhelmed, and ask bloggers to suggest the best one because it’s too ambitious to get into more series than those I already read.
    A big crop of new books by favorite authors of mine have come out this spring, so I must put my nose to the grindstone and read.

    • I can understand your thought to cut down on series: I’ve started quite a few since I started blogging but have only read a book or two in each.

      All those releases before beach reading season, I guess 🙂 My beach time isn’t so much reading-centric with two little ones, but there is the first quiet hour after they’re asleep which is perfect for reading on the porch. Happy reading to you!

  8. Perhaps the little ones could be lulled to sleep with the sonorous voice of Salvo Montalbano, the quiet voice of Guido Brunetti or the witty voice of V.I. Warshawski? Just a thought, start them early.

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