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Ashes to Dust    by Yrsa Sigurdardottir order for
Ashes to Dust
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Order:  USA  Can
Hodder & Stoughton, 2011 (2011)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Ashes to Dust (translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton) is the third in Yrsa Sigurdardottir's Icelandic mystery series starring attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Reykjavík. The divorced mother of young Sóley and older teen Gylfi (who now has a child of his own), Thóra is in a long distance relationship with Matthew Reich, whom she met in the first book, Last Rituals, and who is contemplating a move to Iceland.

Much of this story takes place on the Westmann Islands, The Pompeii of the North, whose residents were evacuated after a volcanic eruption rained down lava and ashes (hence the title). The tale begins on a gruesome murder (a trademark of this author). It moves on to show Thóra with her client, Markus Magnusson, who was fifteen at the time of the eruption. He has been trying to prevent archaeologists from excavating his old family home. Failing that, he demanded and won permission to remove whatever he wanted from the basement.

Markus emerges from the ashes to request Thóra's legal opinion on what he has found - three corpses and a box containing 'a dried-up severed head'. Of course the police are quickly involved and naturally they suspect Markus of some involvement. It doesn't help that Alda, the woman he claims asked him to store the box for him the day of the eruption (they were schoolmates on the islands) and then more recently to extract it from his old basement, was the victim whose murder opened the book.

Other players in the story include Tinna, a young anorexic who saw something the day of Alda's death; her self-absorbed father Adolf, who has been charged with rape; members of the Magnusson family, who practically own the islands; and Thóra's office secretary Bella, whose attitude and antics add to the fun. As always, Thóra deals with all the lies and surprises thrown at her with equanimity and humor. Don't miss this unusual series, which always addresses exotic, convoluted crimes.

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