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Last Rituals: An Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder Hardcover – October 2, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Similar in plot to Swedish author Helene Tursten's The Glass Devil, this first in a new series from Icelandic author Sigurdardottir offers little readers have not seen before. As with Tursten's novel, the spectre of demon-worship is at the heart of the mystery, after the strangled corpse of Harald Guntlieb is discovered with his eyes gouged out. Guntlieb, a German student, was attending graduate school in Iceland, examining the latter country's history of witch-hunting, an academic pursuit that may have taken on more personal overtones. His grieving parents, who had already suffered the loss of a child, enlist attorney and single mother Thóra Gudmundsdôttir to objectively assess the police case against a drug addict arrested for the murder. Aided by an attractive ex-German police officer, Gudmundsdôttir diligently tracks down the dead man's friends and colleagues, before arriving at the truth. The author gives less of a sense of her native land than other contemporary Scandinavian crime writers like Karin Fossum, and the identity of the killer will surprise few.
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'Dark, deep and icy as an Icelandic fjord; this is a rich and rewarding debut novel of ancient mysteries and very modern murder.' -- Mark Billingham 20071207 'Given the dark subject matter, this is a surprisingly funny book... a quirky and interesting read.' -- Guardian 20071222 '..a grisly chiller set in the depths of winter... Her mystery is absorbing and, untypically, instead of the usual gloomy middle-aged man, her sleuth is a young woman... It's an accomplished debut, with credible characters and a personable heroine.' -- Sunday Telegraph 20080106 'a unique talent in the field... an exhilarating experience... [She] matches Tess Gerritsen and Kathy Reichs in the bloodchiller stakes.' -- Waterstone's Books Quarterly 20080129 'very good... This is entertaining, well-plotted and cleverly combines the historical and macabre with Thora's life.' -- Marcel Berlins, The Times 20080120 'an intricately plotted tale that keeps the reader guessing whodunnit, or indeed whether it was murder at all, right until the very end.' -- Sunday Express 20080225 'After its grisly opening, LAST RITUALS turns out to be a surprisingly light and playful novel, with a jaunty translation by the late Bernard Scudder.' -- Daily Telegraph 20080120 'Suspenseful, compelling and unique.' -- Kirkus Reviews 20070801 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061143367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061143366
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #600,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

There was so much detailed information which didn't advance the plot.
Emily K Wilson
Very interesting characters who are developed thoughtfully throughout the book.
Belinda Harvey
Good plot and interesting descriptions of contemporary Iceland society.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 58 people found the following review helpful By D. Merrimon Crawford VINE VOICE on October 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Last Rituals: Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft and Modern Murder by internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardottir and translated into English by Bernard Scudder will thrill readers with the finely written mystery and more intimate look at a glimpse of Iceland as the background, a country that intrigues but often remains mysterious. The author combines an obscure part of history with dark psychological details while also creating a realistic and sometimes humorous backdrop in the characters investigating this unusual case.

Thora Gutmundsdottir, a divorced mother who started her own legal partnership receives a phone call from Germany from the Amelia Guntlieb who had been given her name by one of Thora's former professors. Amelia's son was murdered in Iceland and the family needs assistance. The Guntliebs do not feel the local police investigated their son's case thoroughly. Amelia proposes that Thora work with Matthew Reich, a man who spent 5 years with the Munich CID. Although Matthew has the investigative skills needed, he does not know the Icelandic language well enough to ask questions and mix with the locals well enough to get real answers. Certain shocking details of Harald's murder are just too mysterious, eerie and gruesome to believe the murder is connected to a drug deal gone bad. Does someone have a personal vendetta against Harald? After initial reservations, Thora accepts the case and Matthew hands over a dossier detailing many of the particulars of Harald's life. Do the details of his murder relate to his studies of history or to some dark hidden aspect of his personal life? Are the gruesome details a measure of the killer's rage or a clue to the identity of some mysterious group? What does the strange symbol mean?
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Bookphile TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I read a glowing review of this book that inspired me to pick it up. While I think the review was rather too effusive, this was an interesting first book and I think the author has the potential to develop into something really special, given time and experience. Still, because this is a translation, it is difficult to know if some of the more awkward prose is due to the writing itself or if it's due to the translation. Either way, the book could do with some more polish.

The biggest minus of the book, in my opinion, is that Thora's personal life isn't really developed enough to be in the book. I felt oddly off balance whenever reading these details because they seemed sometimes like the author threw them in there and then didn't really go anywhere with them. Thora seemed much to casual about some of the events in her life--especially when it comes to the humongous bomb that her 15-year-old son drops on her. I have a hard time believing any mother could be as sanguine as Thora is, distracted by the case or not.

The real strength of the book, then, is in the mystery. I read a lot of mystery novels but I've never read one that's taken a foray into this particular territory and so it made for a nice change of pace. The murder victim's interest in witchcraft made for some interesting cultural lessons not only about Iceland but also about Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The author also did a nice job making the victim's family mysterious and revealing a surprising plot twist at the end. Harald is anything but a sympathetic character and while I've read mystery novels where the victim isn't the nicest person in the world, Harald's personality added an interesting twist.

The book seems very well researched, though I'm certainly no scholar of history. It is very detailed and well plotted and this is what makes me think that with some work and some polish, this author has the potential to become a fine writer.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Wiley VINE VOICE on March 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Harald Guntlieb has been brutally murdered and a friend of his is accused of the crime. The family isn't satisifed with the investigation, however, and requests the services of Thora Gudmundsdottir, a local attorney. Matthew Reich is already working on the investigation but needs help navigating through the country as Iceland is completely foreign to him. Their investigation is going to take them along a bizarre and twisted path, a path into the history of Iceland's involvement in witchcraft, sorcery, and even torture.

The depth of history on Iceland and its association with witchcraft is simply fascinating. I'm unfamiliar with any of the history but the author presents it in an interesting manner. The details are often gory and the murder, along with the physical appearance of Harald prior to his death, is rather gruesome. Please be forewarned that this is an intense, even bizarre story at times. That is not to say that it isn't good, as it definitely is!

Thora is an intriguing character. The story focuses primarily on the investigation, but the glimpses into her personal life offer a portrait of a loving and caring mother. The contrast between the two mothers, Thora and Amelia Guntlieb, is startling. Thora's interactions with her son provide a much needed positive note to counterbalance the darkness that is portrayed in LAST RITUALS. I loved the way Yrsa Sigurdardottir made some very subtle but important statements about family, particularly in the midst of dysfunction.

LAST RITUALS is clearly not a tale that will appeal to all. The grisly details alone will discourage some readers. The style is very unique as this book has more the feel of literature than your typical thriller. LAST RITUALS is an intense read, but one easily worth reading.

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