All this and more takes place in Icelandic noir author Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s novel, Last Rituals. The first in the series, and the author’s first adult novel, it introduces us to series character Thora Gudmundsdottir, a single mother who is a struggling lawyer with a six year old daughter, Soley, and a sixteen year old son, Gylfi. Gylfi in particular, adds new problems to the mix, along with the German client’s security chief, Matthew Reich.
The client, Amelia Guntlieb, is a wealthy German matriarch who refuses to believe that the police have got the person responsible for her son Harald’s violent and bizarre death. We agreed that the level of violence he is subjected to, and the fact that his eyes had been cut out made for difficult and disturbing reading, but that the author handled this aspect (and other tough scenes) from enough of a distance that they did not overwhelm the mystery of who had killed him and why. The scenes were necessary – both for what they told us about the characters and in providing important clues to both the murder and what was behind it.
The group found the story to be immediately engaging, with a flow that moved readers smoothly and quickly through the story. We all enjoyed the chance to hear about different parts of Iceland that Thora and Matthew travelled to, and the artifacts and mythology they learn was fascinating if macabre (and in spite of the necropants!)
Most of the group found some degree of empathy for Elisa, the young sister who was being forced to follow a business career, when she wanted to pursue her talent as a cellist. Some members also had some empathy for Harald because of his rough upbringing. This was affected by learning the event that caused his mother and father to be so distant with him – and we discussed the possibility that he was a sociopath. Members felt this should have been treated at the time of the event, or at the very least, sometime after they realized were his interests were headed – particularly after he was let go from the military.
On a different front, we had some criticisms for Thora as a mother as well. All of us found it very hard to believe that she remained clueless to Glyfi’s impending problem when his own sister had told Thora that Glyfi was “always jumping up and down on his bed and hollering”. One member found Thora very off-putting in the remarks she made, and her general personality. Others found her to be a sympathetic character and one they’ll pursue by reading more of this series. We all loved the way she comes to Gylfi’s defense and how she (& Mathhew) prove how important they take Gylfi’s distress when they stop following an important clue in order to get Thora home to help him.
We liked the points of contrast between how the characters from different cultures and positions reflected a non-American way of looking at things. We enjoyed the way Matthew would state his criticisms of Iceland very plainly – and Thora would react very defensively, even though no discourtesy was intended.
While the revelation of the killer was a surprise to most, we felt he was generally believable as the culprit, although some members thought his motivation wasn’t strong enough until we started talking about it.
We also mulled over what the author had in mind when titling the book “last rituals”. What rituals is she referring to? The witchcraft ceremony Harald and his friends held? The inferred ceremony Marta Mist begins in one chapter? Or could the “rituals” also include how the case is handled by the police versus Thora & Matthew? Patricia shared that Yrsa and Zoe Sharp know each other, so maybe we can ask Zoe when she comes if she could ask Yrsa for us. Trying out our new Mystery Book Rating Scale, we rated “Last Rituals” a 3.4 – meaning that most thought it was good, or very good, would be likely to read more in the series, or would try the author again.
The evening ended with Yule cake and Happy Holiday wishes to all!