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Last Rituals    by Yrsa Sigurdardottir order for
Last Rituals
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Last Rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardottir gives us a rather gruesome 'Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder', starring thirty-something attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Reykjavík. The book is translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder. Thóra is the divorced mother of six-year-old Sóley and sixteen-year-old Gylfi.

After a young German student, Harald Guntlieb, is killed and horribly disfigured, his body is discovered at a Reykjavík university, the eyes missing and runes carved on the corpse. Though a young man is quickly arrested by police for the murder, Harald's parents distrust the official conclusion and launch their own investigation. They send handsome Matthew Reich to spearhead it, and contact Thóra, offering her a substantial sum to assist him.

The pair interview Harald's friends and trace his movements. Slowly a picture emerges of a very disturbed young man, who pursued an interest - inherited from his grandfather - in witchcraft and in particular in the notorious early book on the subject, Malleus Maleficarum. He also engaged in 'Erotic asphyxiation, masochism, sorcery, self-mutilation, and other kinds of perverted behavior', and took drugs.

Thóra soon learns that Harald's parents were very cold to him - but not to his siblings - since he was very young. Why? A valuable old letter is missing from the university and Harald was the last person to have access to it - what did he seek and how was it linked to an Icelandic volcano and to old magic? Harald's odd circle of friends clearly know more than they are telling - were any of them involved?

Gradually, a relationship develops between Thóra and Matthew, as they begin to make sense of the horrific case and its roots in past history, ancient and more recent. If you're looking for something very unusual in mysteries - and don't mind plenty of horror along with touches of humor - then don't miss Yrsa Sigurdardottir's Last Rituals.

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