Yrsa Sigurdardottir is an excellent writer from Iceland. ‘LAST RITUALS: A Tale of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft and Modern Murder.’ Thora Gudmundsdottir is a single mother of two and a struggling attorney who is approached by the German parents of an exchange student whose body was found, mutilated, in a closet at the university. Harald Guntlieb had come to Iceland to study medieval history. He was particularly interested in the myths surrounding the witches of Iceland, men hunted as witches rather than women the accused in most countries. The police believe that Harald’s deaths is related to drugs and a suspect is arrested. But the Guntlieb’s don’t believe the police have the right person. They are willing to pay Thora a significant amount of money if she concentrates on finding the person really responsible for their son’s death.
Thora is soon joined in her investigation by Matthew Reich, a former German police detective, also hired by the victim’s parents. As they investigate they discover that the murder is connected to Iceland’s very dark, mythic past. As Harald’s life in Iceland and Germany are examined, Thora and Matthew find that he was a man of many secrets. Harald seemed to be less involved in working on his thesis than he was on discovering a mysterious manuscript from the Middle Ages, “The Witches Hammer.” Was Harold involved in a coven? Has witch hunting continued down through the ages?
This is an excellent story begging to be read straight through to the end but it is more than a bit grisly. I admit to scanning some of the details. There is a difference between a story like LAST RITUALS and a Hannibal Lecter type story in that the latter makes everyone realizes their own vulnerability. Anyone can be a victim. In LAST RITUALS, Harald has willingly entered into the nightmare. We can read safely because we aren’t like Harald.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir has written a book that captures the reader because, secretly, we believe that there really are people who choose to seek out the darkside. Thora is a wonderful character.