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Ashes to Dust (Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series #3)

Ashes to Dust (Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series #3)

3.9 15
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

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"I can see why so many people are enthusiastic about Yrsa's work. It's very engaging, fresh, and exciting." -- James Patterson

"Iceland's crime queen." --The Scotsman

One of the finest Nordic crime writers working today, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir has been published to rave reviews worldwide. Now, with Ashes to Dust, she delivers a


"I can see why so many people are enthusiastic about Yrsa's work. It's very engaging, fresh, and exciting." -- James Patterson

"Iceland's crime queen." --The Scotsman

One of the finest Nordic crime writers working today, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir has been published to rave reviews worldwide. Now, with Ashes to Dust, she delivers a dynamite and timely thriller set at the site of a volcano.

In 1973, a volcanic eruption buried an entire Icelandic village in lava and ash. Now, hoping to make some cash, a crew is assembled to excavate the site and turn it into a tourist destination. Markús, who was a teenager when the volcano erupted, enlists the help of attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to try to prevent the excavation from going forward.

When the digging continues and three fresh bodies (and a spare head) turn up in the basement of Markús' childhood home, Thóra begins to question Markús' motives for wanting to stop the excavation. His explanation for the bodies is complicated, and the locals seem oddly reluctant to back him up. As Markús' story begins to unravel, Thóra finds herself with an impossible task, defending Markús while trying to solve a quadruple murder that may very well implicate her client.

With unforgettable characters, unexpected twists, and superb psychological suspense, Ashes to Dust is a riveting thriller from a new international star.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sigurdardóttir’s excellent third thriller featuring lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir should win this talented Icelandic author new fans. In 1973, a volcanic eruption on Iceland’s Heimaey Island buried a number of houses in lava, including that of Markús Magnusson, who was 15 at the time. In 2007, an excavation of his childhood home reveals three bodies and a severed head that appear to be decades old. Markús tells the police he knows nothing about the bodies, but the single person who could have verified his version of events is found dead, her apparent suicide soon revealed as murder. With the searchlight of suspicion cast on his affairs, Markús must rely on Thóra, his determined lawyer, to defend his interests. Siggurdardóttir uses Iceland’s past and present to full effect in this tale of hidden crimes and family secrets. Even those unfamiliar with this volcanic island nation will find themselves entranced. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

“Excellent... Sigurdardóttir uses Iceland's past and present to full effect in this tale of hidden crimes and family secrets. Even those unfamiliar with this volcanic island nation will find themselves entranced.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Buried under all the volcanic ash, false trails and endless recriminations is a puzzle whose grim solution is worthy of Stieg Larsson.” —Kirkus

“This darkly atmospheric psychological suspense is full of unusual characters, as well as numerous surprising twists and turns.” —FreshFiction.com

“A fine mix of crime and vividly realized landscape.” —Booklist

“Icelandic volcanic explosion provides a timely background... the chaos and panic caused by the 1973 eruption are vividly evoked in Yrsa Sigurdardóttir's novel.” —The Independent (UK)

“A fascinating setting and realistic characters make this an engrossing read -- and Sigurdardóttir maintains the intrigue as her clever plot unravels.” —Metro (UK)

“Iceland's answer to Stieg Larsson.” —The Telegraph (UK) on the Novels of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

“Stands comparison with the finest contemporary crime writing anywhere in the world.” —The Times Literary Supplement (UK) on the Novels of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

“Sigurdardóttir delivers terrific clammy atmosphere and frequent frissons of fear; she is entitled to join the front rank of Nordic crime writers.” —The Times (UK) on the Novels of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

“Brilliantly plotted and chilling.” —The Daily Mirror (UK) on the Novels of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

“Thora is an attractive heroine; she's practical, capable and intelligent as well as having a dry sense of humor and an enquiring mind….She's curious about everything.” —EuroCrime.com on Last Rituals

“The writing is distinguished by superb evocations of extraordinary landscapes.” —The Independent (UK) on My Soul to Take

“Icelandic attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is a clever and astute woman, and a welcome addition to the pantheon of fictional female investigators.” —RT Book Reviews (four stars) on My Soul to Take

Library Journal
In her third outing (after My Soul To Take) Icelandic lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is hired to assist an heir to an elite fishing company located on a volcanic island far from Rekyavik. A few decades after a catastrophic volcanic eruption, life on the island is dramatically uprooted by the discovery of three dead bodies and one head in a box. It is up to Gudmundsdóttir both to defend her client on charges of murder and to find out who exactly is behind these crimes. VERDICT In this long and detailed novel, the author loads her story with clues, some of which ultimately prove to be relevant while others turn out to be superfluous. But her heroine is engaging and spunky, and fans of both mystery and international crime fiction will be intrigued by the stark setting and puzzling plot.—Jennifer Rogers, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib, Richmond
Kirkus Reviews
A trip down a flight of stairs leads to an unspeakable discovery with appalling consequences for Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and her latest client. No one has been able to enter the house in which Markús Magnússon had been brought up since a volcanic eruption in Iceland's Westmann Islands in 1973. Now that an archeological project is excavating several of the houses buried under lava and ash, Markús has engaged Thóra to accompany him and the project's representative as he searches the house for personal articles his family might have left behind in their hurried evacuation. But he insists on going down to the basement alone, and when he calls out to her, she joins him to find a horrifying scene: three long-dead bodies and the severed head of a fourth. The story Markús tells is as shaky as he is. Alda Thorgeirsdóttir, the nurse he'd carried a torch for when they were in school together, had asked him to retrieve a box she'd asked him to get rid of just before the eruption--a box he'd left in the basement without ever opening it to reveal the head. Unfortunately for Markús, Alda's in no position to confirm this wild tale because someone's just killed her in a particularly fiendish way. So after the police lock up Markús for the 34-year-old murders, Thóra (Last Rituals, 2007, etc.) makes the rounds of three generations of locals searching for exculpatory evidence and alternate suspects. The former is hard to find, but the latter are plentiful in a world in which the sins of the fathers are visited without mercy on the children. Buried under all the volcanic ash, false trails and endless recriminations is a puzzle whose grim solution is worthy of Stieg Larsson.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series , #3
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ashes to Dust

A Thriller
By Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Minotaur Books

Copyright © 2012 Yrsa Sigurdardottir
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312641740

Chapter 1
Monday, July 9, 2007
“You’re trying to tell me Markús is just tidying the basement? You can’t possibly believe that a pile of rubbish is the reason that he didn’t want anyone to go down there before him?”
The lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir smiled politely at the man addressing her, an archaeologist called Hjörtur Fridriksson, but did not answer his question. This was getting out of hand. She was very uncomfortable; the smell of smoke and the ash hanging in the air were irritating her eyes and nose, and she was scared that the roof was going to collapse at any moment. On their way through the house to the basement door the three of them had had to make their way around a huge pile of ashy debris where the roof had collapsed onto the intricately patterned carpet, at which point Thóra had adjusted her helmet’s elastic chin-strap to ensure that it was fastened tightly. She shuffled her feet and looked embarrassedly at the clock. They heard a dull thud from the basement. What exactly was the man up to? Markús had said that he needed a little time, but neither she nor the archaeologist could guess what his definition of “a little” was. “I’m sure he’ll reappear soon,” she said, without much conviction, and stared at the crooked door in the hope that it would be pushed open and this business concluded. She glanced instinctively at the ceiling, ready to jump away if it appeared likely to crash down on them.
“Don’t worry,” said Hjörtur, pointing upward. “If the roof was going to split apart it would have done so a long time ago.” He heaved a sigh and stroked his unshaven chin. “Do you know what he’s doing down there?”
Thóra shook her head, unwilling to discuss her client’s plans with someone unconnected to the case.
“He must have at least hinted,” said Hjörtur. “We’ve been dying to find out about this.” He looked at Thóra. “I’ll bet this has something to do with pornography. The others think so, too.”
She shrugged. That thought had certainly occurred to her as well, but she did not have a sufficiently fertile imagination to guess what kind of thing would be too embarrassing or disgusting to show to a stranger. A film of the homeowner’s sexual adventures? Unlikely. Few people had video cameras in the 1970s, and she doubted that the type of film used back then would have survived the destruction that had rained down on the Islands. Besides, Markús Magnússon, who was down in the basement, had been only fifteen when the house had disappeared beneath lava and ash, so he probably hadn’t been ready for much in that area. Nevertheless, there was something down in the basement that he’d been desperate to get to before them. Thóra sighed. How did she keep ending up with these characters? She didn’t know any other lawyer who attracted such strange cases, and such peculiar clients. She resolved to ask Markús what had inspired him to call her little legal firm instead of one of the larger ones when he decided to demand that the excavation be legally blocked. If he ever returned from the basement. She pulled the neck of her jumper up over her mouth and nose and tried breathing through it. That was a little better. Hjörtur smiled at her.
“You get used to it, I promise,” he said. “Hopefully you won’t have to, though—it takes several days.”
Thóra rolled her eyes. “Damn it, it’s not like he’s going to move in down there,” she muttered through her jumper. Then she pulled it down to smile at Hjörtur. It was thanks to him that things had gone so well until now, in that they’d been able to get by without demanding the injunction. In any case, that would only have been a temporary measure since Markús and his family no longer had any claim on the house. The Westmann Islands owned it along with all its contents, and there was little point in fighting this fact even though Markús had made a concerted attempt to do so. He had focused particularly on Hjörtur Fridriksson, the man now standing next to Thóra; Hjörtur was the director of a project entitled Pompeii of the North, whose task it was to excavate a number of houses that had been buried by ash in the eruption on Heimaey Island in 1973. Thóra had had considerable contact with him by telephone and email since the case had begun, and liked the man well enough. He was inclined to be long-winded, but seemed reasonable and was not easily provoked. Hjörtur had been seriously tested, since Markús so often acted like a total ass. He had refused to give even the slightest clue as to why he was opposed to his parents’ house being excavated, had gone on and on about invasions of privacy, and had generally complicated the matter for Thóra in every conceivable way. After trying to reach an agreement but getting nowhere due to Markús’s pigheadedness, in defeat she had asked Hjörtur whether he couldn’t just dig up some other house instead. There were certainly enough to choose from. But that was out of the question, since Markús’s childhood home was one of the few houses in the area built of concrete, and thus was more likely than the others to have withstood the cataclysm in any significant way. The purpose of the excavation was not to dig down to a house that was now simply rubble.
Thóra had already started reading up on how she might best obtain an injunction against the excavation when it transpired that Markús was only concerned about the basement of the house. Finally they could discuss solutions sensibly, and Hjörtur had proposed this arrangement: the house would first be dug up and aired out, and then Markús would be the first person allowed down into the basement, where he could remove anything that he wanted. After some consideration he agreed to this compromise and Thóra breathed easier. Markús had no trouble at all bearing the cost of endless litigation, since he was anything but badly off financially. His family owned one of the largest fishing companies in the Westmann Islands, and even though Thóra would never complain about being paid well for her work, she was upset about working against her better judgment, and toward a goal that would never be reached. She was immensely relieved when Markús agreed to Hjörtur’s proposal; now she could start putting the final touches to the fine details of the agreement over how Markús’s visit to the basement would be conducted, how they could guarantee that others would not be allowed to sneak in before him, and so on. The agreement was then signed, and they only had to wait for the end of the excavation.
So there they stood, archaeologist and lawyer, staring at a crooked basement door while a man who had still been a teenager in 1973 wrestled with a terrible secret beneath their feet.
“Hallelujah,” said Thóra when they heard footsteps on the basement stairs.
“I do hope he found whatever he was looking for,” said Hjörtur gloomily. “We didn’t think about the possibility of him coming up empty-handed.”
Thóra crossed her fingers and stared at the door.
They watched anxiously as the doorknob turned, then incredulously as the door was cracked open only a tiny bit. They exchanged a glance, then Thóra leaned forward and spoke into the gap. “Markús,” she said calmly, “is something wrong?”
“You’ve got to come down here,” came the reply. His voice sounded peculiar, but it was impossible to tell whether he was excited, disappointed or sad. The glow from his flashlight shone through the chink and illuminated Thóra’s feet.
“Me?” Thóra asked, flabbergasted. “Down there?” She looked back at Hjörtur, who raised his eyebrows.
“Yes,” said Markús, in the same enigmatic tone. “I need to get your opinion on something.”
“My opinion?” she echoed. When she found herself speechless she had a habit of repeating whatever was said to her, giving herself time to ponder her response.
“Yes, your legal opinion,” said the voice behind the door.
Thóra straightened up. “I’ll give you all the opinions you want, Markús,” she said. “However, this is how it is with us lawyers: we have no need to experience for ourselves whatever it is we’re dealing with. So there’s no reason for me to clamber down there with you. Tell me what this is about and I’ll put together an opinion for you back at my office in Reykjavík.”
“You’ve got to come down here,” said Markús. “I don’t need a written opinion. A verbal one’ll do.” He paused. “I’m begging you. Just come down here.” Thóra had never heard Markús sound so humble. She’d only heard him being haughty and opinionated.
Hjörtur scowled at Thóra, unamused. “Why don’t you just get it over with? It’s completely safe, and I’m keen to finish up here.”
She hesitated. What in the blazes could be down there? She absolutely did not want to go down into even darker and fouler air. On the other hand, she agreed with Hjörtur that they had to settle this here and now. She roused herself. “All right then,” she conceded, grabbing Hjörtur’s flashlight. “I’m coming.” She opened the door wide enough to step through and saw Markús on the stairs, looking pale as a corpse. His face nearly matched the white helmet that he wore on his head. Thóra tried not to read too much into it, since the only light was coming from their flashlights, giving everything an otherworldly glow. She gulped. The air there was even more stagnant, dustier. “What do you want to show me?” she asked. “Let’s get this over with.”
Markús set off down the stairs into the darkness. The beam from his flashlight was of little use amid the dust and ash and there was no way to see where the steps ended. “I don’t know how to describe it,” said Markús in a strangely calm voice, as he went down the stairs. “You’ve got to believe me when I say that this is not what I came here looking for. But it’s clear now that you have to get an injunction against the excavation and have the house covered over again.”
Thóra pointed her light at her feet. She had no wish to trip on the stairs and tumble into the basement head first. “Is there something bad here that you weren’t aware of?”
“Yes, you could say that,” he replied. “I would never have allowed the excavation to go ahead if this was what I wanted to hide. That’s for certain.” He was standing now on the basement floor. “I think I’ve got myself into a really bad position.”
Thóra stepped off the final stair and took her place by his side. “What do you mean by ‘this’?” she asked, shining her light around. The little that she could discern appeared completely innocent: an old sled, a badly dented birdcage, numerous boxes and miscellaneous rubbish scattered here and there, all of it covered with dust and soot.
“Over here,” said Markús. He led her to the edge of a partition. “You have to believe me—I knew nothing about this.” He pointed his flashlight downward.
Thóra peered at the floor, but couldn’t see anything that could have frightened Markús that much, only three mounds of dust. She moved her flashlight over them. It took her some time to realize what she was seeing—and then it was all she could do not to let the flashlight slip from her hand. “Good God,” she said. She ran the light over the three faces, one after another. Sunken cheeks, empty eye sockets, gaping mouths; they reminded her of the photographs of mummies she’d once seen in National Geographic. “Who are these people?”
“I don’t know,” said Markús, clearly in shock himself. “But that doesn’t matter. What’s certain is that they’ve been dead for quite some time.” He raised one of his hands to cover his nose and mouth, even though there was no smell from the corpses, then grimaced and looked away.
Thóra, on the other hand, could not tear her eyes away from the remains. Markús hadn’t been exaggerating when he said that this looked bad for him. “What did you want to hide, then, if it wasn’t this?” she asked in astonishment. “You’d better have an answer when this gets out.” He appeared on the verge of protesting, and she hurriedly added: “You can forget about the house being buried again as if nothing ever happened. I can promise you that that’s not an option.” Why was nothing ever simple? Why couldn’t Markús just have come up from the basement with his arms full of old pornographic pictures? She aimed her flashlight at him.
“Show me what you were looking for,” she said, her anxiety heightened by the nervous expression on his face. “Surely it can’t be worse than this.”
Markús was silent for a few moments. Then he cleared his throat and shone his light into a nook right next to them. “It was this,” he said, not letting his eyes follow the flashlight’s beam. “I can explain everything,” he added nervously, looking at his feet.
“Oh, Jesus!” cried Thóra, as her flashlight clattered to the floor.

Copyright © 2010 by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
English translation copyright © 2010 by Philip Roughton


Excerpted from Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir Copyright © 2012 by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

YRSA SIGURDARDOTTIR lives with her family in Reykjavík; she is also a director of one of Iceland's largest engineering firms.

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Ashes to Dust: A Thriller 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not only does the author provide a compelling crime story but she also manages to create interesting characters. She has the rare talent of combining the interior thoughts and external actions of her subjects. I enjoy nordic mysteries with the accompaning darkness; with thisauthor, however (being Icelandic, I guess) she adds humor into the actions of her subjects. I look forwardto her future works. The translation into English is excellent. Kudos to that person. In addition, there were no wierd typos or odd symbols. I highly recommend this book to both men and women.
tedfeit0 More than 1 year ago
A volcanic eruption covered a little island off the coast of Iceland in 1973, forcing the evacuation of the population and burying many of the houses and its contents. In recent times, some parts were dug out, and from these efforts a bizarre murder mystery evolves. One house scheduled to be investigated was the boyhood house of Marcus Magnusson, who steadfastly fought against the effort. Finally, he relented when permitted to remove what he chose from the basement. After entering the basement, leaving his attorney, Thora Gudmundsdottr and the archeologist upstairs, he called Thora in a panic, pointing to a severed head which rolled out of a box, after which four bodies were found. Following this discovery, Marcus is held by the police while they investigate the situation. It remains for Thora to find exonerating evidence to free her client. Additional murders broaden the case and complicate her efforts. This novel is the third in the series. I found it less appealing than its predecessors, perhaps because I believed the translation to be less than effective, full of stilted syntactical and grammatical and other errors. Certainly, the author developed an interesting plot with a completely unexpected twist at the end. But it deserved to be told in more flowing language.
WellredND More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of hers since the first book. I watched her style improve and the story twists get better. I love the causal telling of the Icelandic lifestyle and did I mention volcanoes?? This is her best book yet. When I read the last 5 pages or so I was wondering how this would possibly wrap up. I think the word "surprised" to be woefully inadequate. Well Done Yrsa!!!! Looking forward to # 4.
Stan0522 More than 1 year ago
All of Yrsa Sigurdardottir's mysteries are fun reading, with good character development, and a dash of humor. I like them. Because of the Icelandic naming convention, it is sometimes hard to figure out how some characters are related to others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting but not great. Some characters need to be more fully drveloped & the pace is VERY uneven. Althiugh the plot's twists & turns keep you guessing,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A place where no one is likely to retire. The second favorite thing are the names what utter confusion there must be . By mariesdottir (whose mother was clarasdottir) my daughter is now margaretsdottir
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Smiles "hey"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I expected this book to be very intresting due to the reviews but I soon realized this book went nowhere. The first few pages had an amazing hook that was incredibly decietful. I had believed this book would be exciting! Good luck with reading, if you dare.
fairygrandmother More than 1 year ago
The setting and premise of story is intriguing in itself. fast paced good characters and the ending is a real zinger.
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Twink More than 1 year ago
3.5/5 I've been reading a number of Nordic mystery/thriller authors lately, but Yrsa Sigurdardottir was the first Icelandic author I've read. Indeed, she is known as 'Iceland's Crime Queen.' Yrsa's recurring character is lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir. In Ashes to Dust, the third book in the series, Thora is employed by a former resident of Heimaey Island in The Westman Islands. This fishing village was covered by a volcanic eruption in 1973 and only now (2007) is her client's former childhood home being uncovered. The government owns the houses and contents, but Markus insists on going to the basement ahead of the archaeologists to recover a box, before he signs off on the waiver. (I found the setting fascinating and ended up reading all about the Westman Islands online) He swears he has no idea what's in the box - a friend left it in the basement and she is the one who desperately wants it back he says. But when the archaeologists go down after him, what they discover changes the game - three bodies nicely laid out. And the box? It contains a head. Yes, a head. Thora's case has taken a completely different turn. Thora is a wonderfully different protagonist. She is a grandmother with a young child still at home, divorced, hoping that her long distance romance will work out. She's very, very determined and undertakes to prove her client's innocence. I found this different from North American practices - the lawyer pursuing clues and the truth rather than an investigator. I loved that she took along her secretary - again another character that's a square peg in a round hole. Interspersed with Thora's investigations are chapters from other characters that we know must somehow be related to the case. Sigurdardottir has created a winding plot that takes us down many avenues, exploring familial relationships as well as those of a small close knit village. There are no great surprises (many of the clues are plainly laid out) and some of the story seems superfluous. At times, I wanted to hurry the tellin along - it seemed it could have been done in about eighty pages less. I did enjoy the descriptions of Iceland's culture, lifestyle and scenery. But, Ashes to Dust felt a little wooden in parts. I'm not sure if this is in the original text or a result of the translation. It was an entertaining tale, but comparisons to Steig Larsson may be a bit too ambitious.