Last Rituals: A Novel of Suspense

Last Rituals - Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Bernard Scudder Each year, our mystery book club reads at least one international author -- for Canadians that means outside the USA as well as Canada. Due to the attention created by Henning Mankell and Steig Larssen, those have tended to be nordic writers over the past couple of years. Though Sigurdardóttir's novel involves a rather gruesome corpse at the beginning, her book is much lighter than those of her contemporaries. Of course, there are the references to the cold and the long nights in the nordic countries, but Sigurdardóttir keeps a touch of humour about them via her protagonist lawyer-turned-detective Thóra Gudmundsdóttir's ability to self-deprecate -- without ever quite turning into a whiner. Sigurdardóttir is also trusting of the reader in that she actually leaves the gore in that opening scene (and later discussions of witch hunts and torture) mostly to the reader's imagination. Instead of describing the corpse, she shows us the reactions of the first two people to find it. We also find later that part of the "gruesomeness" was the victim's extensive body modifications in life. I was also impressed by the balance that Sigurdardóttir showed in explaining Icelandic culture to the reader. The victim was a history grad student, so most of the motives for the murder involved a lot of Icelandic history. As her protagonist points out, Iceland is a country of only 300,000 people, a limited audience. Sigurdardóttir was obviously writing with translation in mind, but she did not talk down to the reader -- at least not much. Thóra did tend to be a little blind regarding things and people close to her -- the personal revelation late in the book was no surprise at all, but I can forgive that as character quirk. It's not often I'll read a second book by an author that writes contemporary mysteries, but Sigurdardóttir might just make the grade.