It’s official. The Scandinavians are ruling the mystery-writing world right now. Last Rituals was yet another greatly layered crime story. Yrsa Sigurdardottir is every bit on par with Menkell, Larrson, Indridason, and all of the others. Her strong female protagonist, Thora Gudmundsdóttir, shines through all of her dismal Icelandic surroundings. She’s cool, funny, tough, and tender without displaying too many stereotypical leading lady archetypes.
Thora is a lawyer working from a struggling law office. She’s also a single mom raising a sweet little girl and a moody teen aged boy. Even though things are often trying, Thora keeps it together and does whatever it takes to provide for her children and to strengthen her law practice. Opportunity comes knocking when she is contacted by a wealthy German family who specifically request Thora to handle the investigation of their son’s murder. Thora is hired to work alongside an arrogant, slightly dandy-ish man named Matthew Reich, (the interplay between and Thora and Matthew is pretty funny; a bit of German/Icelandic culture clash along with the classic male vs. female stereotypes).
The murder victim is a student at a university in Reykjavík. When his body is found, it is gruesomely defiled. His eyes have been cut out and there are strange symbols carved into his chest. The police arrested a suspect, but Thora and Matthew remain unconvinced. As the two of them dig a little deeper, they discover that the young man was obsessed with Iceland’s dark history of witchcraft, execution and torture. He also belonged to a secret society of sorts, a small group of like-minded morbids. Thora and Matthew travel all throughout Iceland, needing to find both tangible clues for their case as well as strange and mysterious artifacts from the past. The darkness they discover in Icelandic history potentially rivals the darkness in the minds of the victim and his cohorts.
This book’s got lots of fun and creepy witchcraft, and lots of clever twists and turns. Check it out, particularly if you enjoy the dark mysteries of the icy north.