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LAST RITUALS by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir


A Tale of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder

by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir & translated by Bernard Scudder

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-06-114336-6
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

An Icelandic lawyer helps investigate the murder and mutilation of a witchcraft-obsessed student.

When wealthy German student Harald Guntlieb is found dead in the history department of his Reykjavik university, his parents are dissatisfied with the police investigation and unconvinced that the drug dealer they have arrested is the actual culprit. They send a business associate and family friend, Matthew Reich, to Iceland to conduct his own investigation, and hire local lawyer and single mother Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to assist him. There are several troubling elements about the case—most notably the fact that, though Harald was killed by asphyxiation, his eyes were also gouged out and a bizarre symbol carved on his chest. These oddities are consistent with Harald’s lifestyle—he participated in deviant sexual practices and bizarre body art. More importantly, he had an intense academic, personal and even social interest in Medieval witchhunts, and had formed a bizarre student society dedicated to it. Matthew and Thóra question the members of the society and find them suspicious, particularly Harald’s closest friend, a medical student named Dóri. Together, they trace Harald and Dóri’s various activities, including an illegal surgery that Dóri performed on Harald’s tongue and a trip they took together in search of an ancient manuscript. And while Harald inherited his passion for witchcraft from a like-minded grandfather, Thóra determines that his relationship with the rest of his family was tenuous at best. Meanwhile, important letters have gone missing from the university, and an arrogant professor named Gunnar is convinced that Harald was behind their disappearance. In a bizarre subplot, Thóra is drawn back to the homefront when she finds out that her 15-year-old son is going to be a father. When Harald’s former landlord finds some key additional evidence, the police arrest Dóri, but Thóra and Matthew still worry that pieces are missing. They tie up the loose ends, free the innocent, apprehend new suspects and, rather predictably, fall in love.

Some of the nuances seem to have been lost in translation, but the meat of the mystery is suspenseful, compelling and unique.