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by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Hodder & Stoughton, January 2008
432 pages
11.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340920610

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is a lawyer in Reykjavik. Business isn't exactly thriving, her car is on its last legs, she has two children and an ex-husband to contend with, and the secretary from hell to make things worse. So against her better judgement she agrees to help a German investigator look into the murder of a student.

Harald Guntlieb was a German student studying Icelandic history in Reykjavik. After he's found dead with his eyes gouged out and some weird symbols carved on his body, police seem keen to pin the blame on a friend of his. But the family ask Thóra to find out who was really responsible.

Thóra is aided and abetted by Matthew Reich, a German policeman-turned-PI who knows the family well. He's a strange sort of chap – the back cover blurb is a bit harsh on him, mind – and half the fun of the book is watching the odd dynamics between the two of them.

I hesitate to describe such a gory book as jolly, but in many ways, that's how Sigurdardóttir's writing style is. Translator Bernard Scudder conveys a jaunty feel to the prose which has a chatty feel to it. Scudder sadly died in 2007 and will be much missed for his fluent, idiomatic translations.

Sigurdardóttir handles her cast confidently as she cuts between Thóra and Martin, and Harald's eccentric and not particularly likeable friends. In fact, aside from the two main characters, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone here you'd want to have a coffee with as a self-centred professor and Harald's odd family are added to the mix.

The one faintly tiresome angle is the running gag with the overweight and inefficient receptionist. Would a law firm really put up with her? And yes, Sigurdardóttir does mention once or twice that Bella's a big girl … Oh, and if you get bored with main characters and their family sagas, then beware . . . you'll get it in spades here with Thóra, her ex and the two kids.

But generally LAST RITUALS is a highly readable and entertaining debut novel which introduces two strong main characters amidst some fascinating historical and cultural storytelling.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, January 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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