My last book for the Scandinavian Reading Challenge takes me back to Iceland for Yrsa Sigurdardóttir‘s first crime novel, Last Rituals (2009, UK edition).
This series features Thóra, an attorney who strays from her usual work when she’s asked to help investigate a murder. The police have arrested Hugi, a friend of the victim, Harald, who’s a German student studying in Iceland, but the family believes the police are wrong. They’ve sent Matthew Reich, an employee and former police officer, to investigate, but he needs the help of a native to proceed.
Thóra is a divorced mother of two who runs a small law office in Reykjavik, and she’s a nice balance to Arnaldur Indriðason’s Erlendur Sveinsson, especially given that one recent report named Iceland the most gender-equal country in the world. Beyond that, she’s happier and funnier than Erlendur, even though the mystery she’s involved in includes some pretty dreadful elements, and Iceland seems a bit less dark and mournful because of her.
Harald Guntlieb is in Iceland to study witchcraft and Iceland’s witch hunts, but he’s not just any student. He’s quite wealthy, his entire body is marked with tattoos and other body art — not even mentioning the fact that he’d recently had his tongue split like a snake’s — and he spends as much time drinking and doing drugs as he does studying. Although there is some evidence against Hugi, Harald’s family thinks it’s significant that the young man doesn’t possess Harald’s eyes, which were removed after his death. Yuck.
Despite all that potential for yuckiness, it’s Thóra’s spirit that dominates. For instance, when Matthew makes fun of her huge feather-stuffed jacket, she gets even by planning a trip to some caves at a time when she knows he’ll be wearing dress shoes, and then mocking him as he slips and slides his way around. She asks tough questions and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks, but she also gets flustered and embarrassed — even blushes a few times — so she’s a person you’d like to get to know even if you weren’t involved in a murder investigation.
Together Matthew and Thóra manage to work out what Harald was up to and who killed him, even as Thóra deals with a domestic problem and a surprising attraction to Matthew. The big finale, in which Thóra meets Harald’s mother, wasn’t as surprising as I think it was intended to be, but the book definitely left me wanting more.
Buy the book (U.S. edition):
P.S. Yay! I finished my first challenge.