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And it started so well
on November 3, 2010
This book has a very similar premise to what I consider to be Peter Robinson's best Inspector Banks novel, In A Dry Season, in that they both involve murder victims being discovered when a village that has been 'buried' for decades becomes exposed.
This is the third in the series featuring lawyer/sleuth Thora Gudmundsdottir. Although I did enjoy the first two, with some reservations, I get the impression the author is still trying to decide what she wants the series to be. The first, Last Rituals, was rather gruesome in places and found Thora working in partnership with a male German visitor to Iceland who of course becomes her love interest. In the second, My Soul to Take, the nasty element had been toned down, the male character, Matthew, was very much relegated to a supporting role, and Thora's young daughter, teenage son and his very pregnant girlfriend provided a sub-plot which was so bad it would be absurd in an American sitcom. Thankfully in this latest book that 'comic' element has almost gone, but so has Matthew who is little more than a telephone tag bit part player who might or might not be moving to Iceland. His role of sidekick is taken by Thora's secretary, who until now has been completely useless, and only kept her job as it was a condition of the terms of the lease of the office Thora rented. This fact is made plain in the earlier books but not mentioned in this one, just in case you are wondering why she would be tolerated. It looks as if Yrsa Sigurdardottir may be looking to reader reaction to determine the outcome of the, 'will they/won't they', romance element of Thora and Matthew, and who should get the nod as the sidekick.
Ashes to Dust has a great opening, and probably just pips the aforementioned, In A Dry Season, by the fact that it is based around real events in Iceland in 1973, when a volcanic eruption destroyed and buried most of an island village and caused it to be evacuated. However while the Robinson book builds up from the victim discovery, this one goes downhill faster than the lava flow central to the plot. It gets convoluted enough for the author to throw in a résumé, in the form of a review of case notes, about three quarters of the way through to remind you who everyone is and what is going on. (Just like Sam asking questions at the end of an episode of Quincy). I know it is fiction but the solution when it comes is so ludicrous it makes Murder On The Orient Express seem plausible.
If there is a fourth in the series I will read it in the hope that the author will have stopped experimenting and concentrate instead on the key elements that made her first book the best by far. For anyone considering Ashes To Dust who hasn't yet read the Peter Robinson book, I would recommend the latter as the better option.