So, I have a now-not-so-secret Nodic noir murder mystery soft spot. I have read all of Stieg Larsson; Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series queued up on my Kindle saw me through my epic trip through Europe; I get far too involved binging on The Bridge, The Killing, (original versions of course) and River. There is an intelligence, a darkness to these stories. A focus on the details, no patronising of the reader, and a compulsiveness to solve the damn murder. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is the latest author to add to this little canon I am creating. I do not know where I came across her, but put Last Rituals on my ‘to read’ list as the first in her Thóra Guðmundsdóttir series. So combining my naughty habit with my ongoing interest in the stunning country that is Iceland, you have me hooked.
Thóra is a lawyer, cast in a private detective role here after she is approached by the wealthy grieving mother of Harald, a German student who was killed in Reykjavík a couple of months earlier. He was discovered one morning in the History Department of the university as he tumbled out of the printer cupboard, strangled and eyeless. What an opener. The suspect is in custody but the family is not convinced the right man is about to stand trial. To support her, an employee of the family, well-dressed ex-cop, and surly German Matthew is there to assist with case information and pretty well-paid contract for taking on the case.
From there, they delve into Harald’s past, his studies, his friends, and some irregularities in his accounts. The guy has a rather singular occupation: having inherited his both his grandfather’s money and collection of documents, manuscripts and engravings on witchcraft and the reformation in Germany, Harald has come to Iceland to continue his post graduate study on the subject. Of course, he delves further than he is supposed to, his area of study turns into obsession and hobby, creating a practical black magic society with his friends and practicing some pretty dark body mutilations.
This book is flawed, definitely. Thóra maliciousness toward the drop-kick secretary at her legal practice goes beyond ok, and Matthew’s initial flirtations come across as basic unwanted sexual harassment in the workplace. On the whole, these feel like minor quibbles in the face of how this book just took me in and swept me along. It is dark and trippy, delving deep into witchcraft, black magic and the church throughout the centuries in Iceland and Europe. But it is also a classic murder mystery that kept me guessing, compelling me along in its tide.
And for all the glitches and history lessons, when it comes down to it is just a really good whodunnit. The plot romps along, and I just kept reading. The drama is really tight, packed into a few days of shocks and revelations. As a lead character, I really liked spending time with Thóra, and I think it’s fair to say that this will not be the last of Yrsa’s books I will tear through.