Whilst I’ve read lots of Swedish and Norwegian crime fiction, this is my first foray into the novels of Iceland. Yrsa Sigurdardottir had written several books for children but this was her first adult thriller. Translated by Bernard Scudder and published in the UK in 2009, Last Rituals is the first in a series of novels featuring Thora Guttmondsottir. She is an attorney in her mid-thirties, a recently divorced single mother with two children, who is adjusting to living with fewer luxuries than she had been used to when married to a surgeon. When she is offered a huge amount of money by a German family to investigate the murder of their son, who was studying at the University of Iceland, she cannot resist taking the job. The murdered student, Harald Guntleib, had been found in the History department of the university, with his eyes gouged out and a strange symbol carved into his chest, and the police have arrested one of his friends, Hugi, for the murder. Harald’s family are convinced that the Icelandic police have bungled the investigation, and so Thora joins forces with a friend of the Guntleib’s, Matthew Reich, and they begin to delve into the slightly disturbing world of Harald and his interest in witchcraft.
I rather liked Last Rituals. Thora is someone with whom I can see myself having a fun night out with, spending the evening bitching about our ex-boyfriends and drinking far too much Cointreau. She’s witty, intelligent and has a good line in scathing retorts, especially when directed at her useless secretary, Bella. Her and Matthew make a good team, although I thought that Matthew’s character was a little confused, switching from stern and emotionless to playful and sexy, and back again, in the space of a couple of sentences. It wasn’t too annoying, but was distracting at points. The cast of supporting characters were nicely unpleasant, and Sigurdarottir has a good line in writing irritating students, including the intriguingly named Marta Mist, whom I wanted to strangle several times.
Sigurdarottir has obviously done extensive research into the history of witchcraft in Iceland, and this comes across clearly without seeming as if she has shoe-horned it into the text for the sake of it. The details of the murder, as related to Harald’s interest in the occult, are described fairly graphically but, again, not gratuitously (just don’t read it whilst eating…) My main criticism is that the ending seems a tad rushed and is a slightly anti-climactic, but I still think that it’s a decent crime novel, and I look forward to reading the next two novels featuring Thora.