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Last Rituals (Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series #1)

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Overview

At a university in Reykjav?k, the body of a young German student is discovered, his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. Police waste no time in making an arrest, but the victim's family isn't convinced that the right man is in custody. They ask Th?ra Gudmundsd?ttir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn't long before Th?ra and her associate, Matthew Reich, uncover the deceased student's obsession with Iceland's grisly history of torture, execution, and witch hunts. But ...

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Last Rituals (Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series #1)

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Overview

At a university in Reykjavík, the body of a young German student is discovered, his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. Police waste no time in making an arrest, but the victim's family isn't convinced that the right man is in custody. They ask Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn't long before Thóra and her associate, Matthew Reich, uncover the deceased student's obsession with Iceland's grisly history of torture, execution, and witch hunts. But there are very contemporary horrors hidden in the long, cold shadow of dark traditions. And for two suddenly endangered investigators, nothing is quite what it seems . . . and no one can be trusted.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

A new Icelandic mystery invites comparison with Arnaldur Indridason's crime fiction (Voices), but this title bears little resemblance. Thóra is a thirtysomething divorcée, mother of two, and a partner in a small law firm. She is reluctantly drawn into a murder investigation when approached by the Guntlieb family, whose son, Harald, was killed at the university. With the pay at twice her usual rate and the assistance of Matthew Reich, the Guntlieb family representative, Thóra can't refuse, even though the gruesome murder appalls her. To find the murderer, Thóra and Matthew must delve into Harald's interests in witchcraft and witch burnings and investigate his university friends. Scudder provides such a smooth translation, right down to the slang used by Harald's college friends, that an engaged reader can easily forget this was originally written in Icelandic. Featuring two fleshed-out, involving lead characters and unusual witchcraft details, this is recommended for all public libraries, and readers' advisors can suggest this title to patrons who enjoy Scandinavian mysteries by Helene Tursten and Åsa Larsson. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ6/1/07; for more recent crime fiction from Scandinavia, see "Murder, Nordic Style," LJ8/07, p. 57.-Ed.]
—Jessica E. Moyer

Kirkus Reviews
An Icelandic lawyer helps investigate the murder and mutilation of a witchcraft-obsessed student. When wealthy German student Harald Guntlieb is found dead in the history department of his Reykjavik university, his parents are dissatisfied with the police investigation and unconvinced that the drug dealer they have arrested is the actual culprit. They send a business associate and family friend, Matthew Reich, to Iceland to conduct his own investigation, and hire local lawyer and single mother Th-ra Gudmundsd-ttir to assist him. There are several troubling elements about the case-most notably the fact that, though Harald was killed by asphyxiation, his eyes were also gouged out and a bizarre symbol carved on his chest. These oddities are consistent with Harald's lifestyle-he participated in deviant sexual practices and bizarre body art. More importantly, he had an intense academic, personal and even social interest in Medieval witchhunts, and had formed a bizarre student society dedicated to it. Matthew and Th-ra question the members of the society and find them suspicious, particularly Harald's closest friend, a medical student named D-ri. Together, they trace Harald and D-ri's various activities, including an illegal surgery that D-ri performed on Harald's tongue and a trip they took together in search of an ancient manuscript. And while Harald inherited his passion for witchcraft from a like-minded grandfather, Th-ra determines that his relationship with the rest of his family was tenuous at best. Meanwhile, important letters have gone missing from the university, and an arrogant professor named Gunnar is convinced that Harald was behind their disappearance. In a bizarre subplot, Th-rais drawn back to the homefront when she finds out that her 15-year-old son is going to be a father. When Harald's former landlord finds some key additional evidence, the police arrest D-ri, but Th-ra and Matthew still worry that pieces are missing. They tie up the loose ends, free the innocent, apprehend new suspects and, rather predictably, fall in love. Some of the nuances seem to have been lost in translation, but the meat of the mystery is suspenseful, compelling and unique.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061143373
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/7/2009
  • Series: Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series , #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 204,110
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is an award-winning author of five children's novels and a division manager with one of Iceland's largest engineering firms. She lives with her family in Reykjavík, Iceland.

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Read an Excerpt

Last Rituals
An Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder

Chapter One

December 6, 2005

Thóra Gudmundsdóttir brushed a stray Cheerio from her trousers and quickly tidied herself before entering the lawyers' office. Not so bad. The morning's challenges of getting her six-year-old daughter and sixteen-year-old son to school on time were over. Recently, Thóra's daughter had started refusing to wear pink, which would not have been a problem if her clothes had not been more or less all in that color. Her son, on the other hand, would gladly have worn the same tattered clothes year in and year out provided there was a skull and crossbones on them somewhere. His great achievement was to wake up in the morning in the first place. Thóra sighed at the thought. It was not easy bringing up two children alone. Then again, it hadn't been easy while she was still married either. The only difference then was that, coupled with the morning chores, she and her husband had constantly bickered. The thought that this was a thing of the past cheered her up, and a smile crept over her lips as she opened the door.

"Good morning," she chimed.

Instead of returning her greeting, the secretary grimaced. She did not look up from her computer screen or stop thumping at the mouse. As much fun as ever, Thóra thought. Deep down inside she never stopped cursing their secretarial problems. They had doubtless cost their firm business. Thóra could not think of one client who had not complained about the girl. She was not only rude but also exceptionally unattractive. It was not being in thesuper-heavyweight bracket that was the big issue, but her general carelessness about her appearance. Plus, she was invariably angry at everything and everyone. And, to top things off, her parents had named her Bella. If only she would quit on her own initiative. She seemed far from happy at the firm and showed no signs of improving. Not that Thóra could imagine any job that would cheer her up. The trouble was, it was impossible to sack her.

When Thóra and her business partner, the older and more experienced Bragi, teamed up to open a legal firm together, they were so taken with the premises that they let the landlord add a proviso to the rental agreement: the firm would employ his daughter as a secretary. In their defense, they had no way of knowing what they were getting themselves into. The girl had a glowing recommendation from the estate agents who had rented there before them. Now, however, Thóra was convinced that the previous tenants had moved from the ideal location on Skólavördustígur solely to rid themselves of the secretary from hell. They were surely still howling with laughter at how gullible Thóra and Bragi had been about those references. Thóra was equally convinced that if they took the matter to court they could have the proviso overturned on the grounds that the references were dubious. But that would cost the firm the small reputation Thóra and Bragi had built up so far. Who would consult a legal firm that specializes in contractual law yet messes up its own contracts? And even if they could get rid of Bella, it was not as if good secretaries were lining up at the door.

"Someone phoned," Bella mumbled, glued to her computer screen.

Thóra looked up in surprise from hanging up her coat. "Really?" she said. "Do you have any idea who it was?"

"No. Spoke German, I think. I couldn't understand him anyway."

"Is he going to call back?"

"I don't know. I cut him off. By accident."

"In the unlikely event that he does ring back, would you mind putting the call through to me? I studied in Germany and I speak German."

"Hmph," Bella grunted. She shrugged. "Maybe it wasn't German. It could have been Russian. And it was a woman. I think. Or a man."

"Bella, whoever calls—a woman from Russia or a man from Germany, even a dog from Greece that speaks in tongues—put them through to me. Okay?" Thóra did not wait for a reply—didn't expect one—but walked straight into her modest office.

She sat down and switched on the computer. Her desk was not quite as chaotic as usual. The day before she had spent an hour sorting the papers that had piled up over the past month. She logged on to her e-mail and began deleting junk mail and jokes from friends. All that was left were three e-mails from clients, one from her friend Laufey with the subject line Let's get wasted this weekend, and one from the bank. She had probably exceeded her credit card limit. And she was bound to be overdrawn as well. She decided not to open the e-mail, to be on the safe side.

Her telephone rang.

"Central Lawyers, can I help you?"

"Guten Tag, Frau Gudmundsdóttir?"

"Guten Tag." Thóra searched for a pen and paper. High German. She made a mental note to address the woman with the formal "Sie."

Thóra squeezed her eyes shut and hoped she could rely on the good command of German she had gained while getting her law degree at the University of Berlin. She put on her best pronunciation. "How can I be of assistance?"

"My name is Amelia Guntlieb. I was given your name by Professor Anderheiss."

"Yes, he taught me in Berlin." Thóra hoped her phrasing was right. She could tell how rusty her pronunciation had become. There were not many opportunities to practice German in Iceland.

"Yes." After an uncomfortable silence the woman continued: "My son was murdered. My husband and I need assistance."

Thóra tried to think fast. Guntlieb? Wasn't Guntlieb the name of the German student who was found dead at the university?

"Hello?" The woman seemed unsure whether Thóra was still on the line.

Thóra hurried to reply: "Yes, sorry. Your son. Did it happen here in Iceland?" "Yes."

"I think I know the case you're referring to, but I must admit I've only heard about it on the news. Are you sure you're talking to the right person?"

Last Rituals
An Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder
. Copyright © by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    a terrific investigate thriller.

    In Reykjavik, Iceland, the police arrest a drug dealer for murdering and mutilating German college student Harald Guntlieb. However, the victim¿s affluent parents do not believe the police caught the right person they cannot comprehend why a drug dealer would asphyxiate a victim rather than just shoot him, not carve out their son¿s eyes nor carve ritual symbols on his chest. They assume their offspring was killed in a witchcraft homicide.---------------- Still seeking closure, the parents send trusted family friend Matthew Reich, a former CID agent, to Iceland to investigate. He knows even before he leaves the continent that he will require local assistance so through Harold¿s grieving mom Amelia, Matthew hires lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir, a single mother, to assist him on the case as she speaks his language as well as that of the locals. They follow up on the odd LAST RITUALS by looking into Harold¿s life in Iceland and learn he belonged to a strange group that participated in unusual sexual rites and had a passionate fascination with medieval witch-hunts. As they dig deeper, they find the case spiraling out of control even as Thora¿s family life intrudes.--------------- Thora makes this exciting Icelandic whodunit an entertaining read as she struggles between balancing a complex investigation with the demands of her children especially her teen son. Matthew knows he can go nowhere without her as he does not speak the language besides being a foreigner no one would cooperate with him. Thus her family needs intrude on the case driving Matthew to distraction. The mystery is clever as the audience will find many suspects to choose from even while the police seek to end the case with a second arrest of a student. LAST RITUALS is a terrific investigate thriller.--------------- Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2007

    A great way to learn more about Iceland

    Doubling her fees and promising a huge bonus at a time when Thora Gudmundsadotter badly needed the money was enough to draw her to this case, but at what cost? Thora investigates the horrible death and mutilation of a young German student at the University of Iceland. The police have a suspect imprisoned, but the victim¿s parents don¿t think he¿s the killer. She is drawn into a world she only knew from the outside a world of witchcraft and strange Rituals. Well written and greatly entertaining. Review by Wanda C. Keesey (author of Lost In The Mist release date May 2008)

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2007

    LAST RITUALS: Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft and Modern Murder

    LAST RITUALS: an Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft and Modern Murder by internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardottir thrills with the finely written mystery and more intimate look at a glimpse of Iceland as the background, a country that intrigues but often remains mysterious. The author combines an obscure part of history with dark psychological details while also creating a realistic and sometimes humorous backdrop in the characters investigating this unusual case. Thora Gutmundsdottir, a divorced mother wit her own legal partnership receives a phone call from Germany from Amelia Guntlieb. Her son was murdered in Iceland and the family needs assistance. The Guntliebs do not feel the local police investigated their son¿s case thoroughly. Amelia proposes Thora work with Matthew Reich, a man who spent 5 years with the Munich CID. Matthew does not know the Icelandic language well enough to ask questions and mix with the locals well enough to get real answers. Certain shocking details of Harald's murder are just to eerie and gruesome to believe the murder is connected to a drug deal gone bad. The more clues they find, the more mysterious the murder appears and the two are no longer sure whom they can trust. Yrsa Sigurdardottir creates the perfect balance between realistic characterization and a darker multi-faceted mystery. As the details of Thora¿s family life interfere with her investigation, the reader sees a glimpse of her as whole person --- one who cares for her children as only a devoted mother can but also as a person whose life had endowed her with a delightful sense of humor and a sense of compassion that underlies her investigation. The developing relationship between Thora and Matthew provides delightful humorous twists to accompany the terrifying secrets and relationships they uncover. The mystery itself grabs the reader¿s attention from the very beginning and heightens with each successive revelation of the clues. Suspenseful twists and turns lead to a climax where all the pieces carefully prepared from the very beginning fall together and yet still surprise the reader in unexpected and unforgettable ways. Yrsa Sigurdardottir¿s novel will appeal a wide variety of readers with an interest in Iceland from those with a mere curiosity for this unique country all the way to those with a more thorough knowledge from travel or studies of Icelandic literature. The author interweaves well known aspects of her native land such as the Icelandic horses, lava fields and various landmarks with a humorous look at the pronunciation of the Icelandic language and local driving customs into the plot and into interchanges of the characters themselves. Those curious for a closer more in depth look at Iceland will appreciate the author¿s look at the effects of a small population, the history of Icelandic law and religion and the results of globalization on the daily life of local residents. At all times, the author integrates these details so closely into characters and the structure of the novel so that the pace of the mystery unfolds fluidly with a touch of humor and heightening of the mystery.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2010

    In Iceland the witches were men

    Yrsa Sigurdardottir is another excellent writer from Iceland. Her first book to be released in the US is 'LAST RITUALS: A Tale of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft and Modern Murder.' Thora Gudmundsdottir is a single mother of two and a struggling attorney who is approached by the German parents of an exchange student. The police have arrested a suspect in the murder of their son but they don't believe the police have the right person. They are willing to pay Thora a significant amount of money if she concentrates on finding the person really responsible.

    She is soon joined in her investigation by Matthew Reich, a German also hired by the victim's parents. As they investigate they discover that the murder is connected to Iceland's very dark, mythic past. The victim was very interested in Iceland's history of witchcraft and the hunts for the practitioners most likely because these witches were men.

    This is an excellent story begging to be read straight through to the end but it is more than a bit grisly. I scanned the details. I think the difference between a story like this and a Hannibal Lector story is that the latter smacks everyone in the face with their vulnerability. The victim in this case has gone willingly into a past that may or may not be real.

    I am looking forward to the next book in the series, grisly or not.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2012

    Must read if you like Scandanavian mysteries!

    Great mix of mystery with sense of Iceland, and ancient myth! Thora is an engaging sleuth. I look forward to the continuing series!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 2, 2012

    All in all, I thought there were too many unnecessary gruesome d

    All in all, I thought there were too many unnecessary gruesome details, too many characters (and none of them particularly likeable), and far too many red herrings. The Icelandic names (see the author's name) made the characters all the more difficult to identify and remember. The author brings a totally unrelated family problem in at the end of the book for no reason that I can think of. I think there might have been a good story in there somewhere but there was too much "busyness" going on to sort it out.

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