Twitter Account

Follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski) and Instagram (@doreenyakabuski).

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Archival Review of LAST RITUALS by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

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
2 stars  
Harald 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.

What this 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.

There 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.