Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review of Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The debut mystery novel, Last Rituals, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (author of children’s books) is a bizarre and intriguing journey into medieval literature on witchcraft and modern day Iceland, a mystery surrounding scholars at the university in Reykjavik and including dark pages from Europe’s past.

A college student is found strangled and his eyes cut out and his body is covered by strange symbols. Thora Gudmundsdottir, an attorney and mother of two, is contacted by the student’s wealthy family from Germany, asking for her help. They feel the man arrested and charged with their son’s murder is innocent. They don’t trust the police so they want her to find the truth.

Although reluctant to accept, the fee they offer her is too tempting to pass up. The money has a caveat. The family sends a representative to Iceland from Germany to work with Thora in her investigation. With Matthew Reich, the family rep, Thora discovers the murdered student Harald Guntlieb had a fascination bordering on obsession with the medieval history of witchcraft and witch hunts.

It becomes obvious soon in their investigation that Harald Guntlieb’s circle of college friends are not tell the whole truth, to the police or to Thora. The eclectic gang bands together to hide something from her and Matthew.

I’m not familiar with the medieval references or events that pepper Sigurdardottir’s intriguing mystery but one doesn’t need to be a student of history to enjoy it. Sometimes the story seems to bog down under the weight of the historical details of the events the murdered student was studying. Much of the novel/investigation centers around a fifteenth century book, Malleus Maleficarum, or The Witch’s Hammer, a treatise on witchcraft. It’s interesting to follow the trail of medieval literature and art on this topic as Thora and Matthew discover the disturbing reason for Harald’s mutilation.

The cause of his death, however, is something worthy of an Alex Morgan story.

What drew me to Last Rituals was the inclusion of medieval history but it’s well-centered in modern day Iceland. Sigurdardottir gives the reader a great taste of Icelandic culture and way of life. Great reading for any mystery buff.  Her second novel proves to be spooky fun as well.

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