I've been reading several Icelandic mysteries and thought I'd post a review from my archives of the first Icelandic mystery I ever encountered. I read this first in the Thóra Guðmundsdóttir series back in April of 2012.
Review of Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Guntlieb, a university student from Germany, is killed in Iceland and a
friend of his is arrested. Harald's family doubts the police
explanation and sends Matthew Reich to investigate further. Since
Matthew speaks no Icelandic, he hires a lawyer, Thora Gudmundsdottir, to
assist him. The murder investigation soon leads them to research the
history of sorcery in Iceland, Harald's thesis topic.
mystery really lacks is dramatic tension. There is virtually none. There
are macabre touches but a "yuck" factor is not the same as suspense.
The investigation plods along and no one is ever in any real danger. A
great deal of luck and coincidence helps to solve the case: "'the
evidence came from two different sources on the very same day'" (272).
To make matters worse, there are plot tangents, mostly into Thora's
personal life; she has to deal with some family issues which are totally
irrelevant to the main plot. How she handles one particular family
crisis is clearly intended to develop her character, but her traits
could have been shown in her involvement in the murder investigation.
are problems with Thora's characterization. She seems immature for her
age. She is so scatter-brained that she serves a guest a meal without a
main course (254). She is so naive that she seems not to have discussed
safe sex with her sixteen-year-old son. In addition, her knowledge of
the law seems weak. She and her partner in a law firm are not
particularly astute: "Who would consult a legal firm that specializes in
contractual law yet messes up its own contracts" (6)? Later, "She was
wondering whether she could be disbarred for serious abuse of her
position and a flagrant conflict of interest. In fact she was unsure
whether the law made such a provision . . ." Then she asks a police
officer, "'Can I see [the accused] alone or am I supposed to be present
when he's interrogated'" (271)?
The relationship between Matthew
and Thora is stereotypical. They are obviously intended to be foil
characters in the vein of Brennan and Booth in Bones or the Cybill
Shepherd and Bruce Willis characters in Moonlighting. There is little
original in their depiction - (not so)witty repartee with some
unacknowledged sexual attraction.
Two other novels in this
series have been translated into English and I may read them, but only
if nothing else demands my attention more strongly.