Icelandic gloom?

Mount Hekla - the mouth of Hell?
Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a stunning debut crime novel. I first read this about two years ago, and on re-reading enjoyed it even more than I did the first time (always a sign of a good book). The subject matter is grisly, a German student is found murdered in Iceland in exceptionally gruesome circumstances. It turns out that he had a bent for the macabre even during his lifetime, being into extreme body piercing and the study of torture and witchcraft.

A friend of the deceased has been taken into custody, but the victim's family believe that he is innocent and send their own private investigator, Matthew Reich, to investigate. In Reykjavik he meets the heroine of the tale, Thora Gudmundsdottir, a feisty lawyer, and together they embark on the investigation.

Now you may be thinking that this sounds like yet another Scandinavian Euro-cops tale of gloom, and you would be right if it wasn't that Yrsa Sigurdardottir has a wonderful sense of humour, and this dark malicious humour sparkles and crackles throughout the novel. So it is very dark, but it is also hilariously funny, and this makes for a great mix.

It is also a very strong detective story. It works brilliantly just as a straight whodunnit (all the clues are there if you look for them). There's a good dash of Icelandic history, hints of a treasure hunt, a smattering of romance (again handled with great good humour). All-in-all a great fun and compulsive read. It's different to other Euro-cops, but it's a wonderfully compelling story.


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