Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals

A lawyer accepts a job investigating the gruesome murder of a German student who has been studying in Iceland when the students’ parents conclude the police did a slapdash job and have probably arrested the wrong man. The student was deeply interested in witchcraft and witch trials and has collected a group of students around him who have similar interests.

Though there are to date only two Icelandic mystery writers whose works have been translated into English, they could hardly be more different, at least among Scandinavian crime writers. Yrsa’s book is lighthearted, traditional in structure and cozy in tone, with lots of family background and even a bit of romance thrown in. In spite of some gruesomeness in the murder that opens the story, on the whole it’s an amiable entertainment, and fun to read, with some nice landscape included, but it doesn’t have the narrative complexity or the depth that Arnaldur Indridason’s books have. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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8 thoughts on “Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals

  1. I enjoy Indridasson’s books so much. They have such a strong sense of place, and an introspective, thoughtful police detective whose thinking about the crimes and the people involved, is very interesting.

    He does understand the human condition and why people do what they do or else Erlander is thinking it through and we, the readers, go with him in the process.

    I don’t know if I’d be as interested in these books if Erlander were in Montana, rather than Iceland. I want to know more about Icelanders, what they think about immigration and many other issues.

    Siggurdadottir’s books are lighter, as you say, and more fun without the deep personal and social introspection and revelations. I like her books, but am drawn to Indridasson’s, where I’ll drop everything to get his latest book at the library.

    His books are liked by all of my friends who’ve read them–and they all have distinctly different reading tastes.

  2. I really enjoyed the sense of humour in this book, and frankly I need a break from the deeper stuff from time to time. I am always impressed when a translator can tranlate the humour because it’s such a nuanced thing.

    • I know what you mean. When I read it, it was exactly what I needed. I found the main character’s sense of humor and her relations with her kids such a tonic. Vive la difference among writers, because we need different things at different times.

  3. I agree that her book is lighter entertainment and not quite Arnaldur quality, but as you say, that is okay, and she is certainly on my list.

    One thing that amused me was all those characters who were able to rattle off lectures on witchcraft on the spur of the moment.

  4. I second or third “viva la difference” among writers. What a privilege it is to be able to choose among so many genres, so many writers.

  5. I really enjoy reading these northern writers. I discovered Yrsa along with Asa Larsson recently, but have been reading and sharing around books by Arnaldur for some years. The variety and standard of the crime novel gets better and better.
    A vote of thanks here to the translators who make us forget we aren’t reading in the original language but give us not only the words but the spirit of the book.
    So much to read,so little time… Lovers of Arnaldur might like to check out Thomas H Cook (not police procedurals though), and anyone who likes something seriously different could enjoy Fred Vargas or the Argentinian Guillermo Martinez. Finally I recommend anything and everything by my adopted compatriot Peter Temple.

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