Last Rituals (Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series #1)

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061143373
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/07/2009
Series: Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 153,136
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About 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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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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Last Rituals 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
macabr More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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)
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Stella14 More than 1 year ago
Great mix of mystery with sense of Iceland, and ancient myth! Thora is an engaging sleuth. I look forward to the continuing series!
BookLoverCT More than 1 year ago
I first read her stand alone book - I Remember You. I loved the story and it's development. So I was anxious to read all of her Thora Gudmundsdottir series. This is the first of her series and introduces the characters that grow with each book. This book includes rituals, black magic, symbolism and more to hold your interest. I look forward to reading more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most of the characters are underdeveloped and are less than believable. The plot and numerous gruesome details also are farfetched. I read a later book in this series some time ago. Although it wasn't great, it was much better than this (would give later one 2-3 stars). I won't read others in this series. By ajwest
BluJay More than 1 year ago
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.
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in Iceland, this novel features lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir, an appealing character trying to juggle a fledgling law practice, two small children, and a limited income. She is hired by the family of a young German student in Iceland, who was brutally and weirdly murdered. The plot gets pretty gothic, but the setting is interesting and Thora is a most engaging protagonist.
cathyskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First Line: The head caretaker, Tryggvi, stood by the coffeemaker.Lawyer and single mother Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is contacted by Matthew Reich, an ex-German police officer, for help. A wealthy German family's son has been studying at university in Reykjavík, Iceland. His body was found with his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. His family doesn't believe that the Reykjavík police have the right man in custody. Since Thóra's law practice is struggling, she needs the money and agrees to conduct her own investigation.It quickly comes to light that the murdered student was studying Iceland's history of torture, execution and witch hunts, and the more that Thóra and Reich investigate, the more likely it seems that his studies played a part in his murder.I was greatly anticipating this book. One of the reasons why I love reading mysteries set in other countries is because I'm an armchair traveler. I love learning about other countries, and a feeling of place can add so much to a story. Sadly, there was very little sense of place in Last Rituals, and the plot didn't have much that was new either.What I did enjoy a great deal was the character of Thóra, her dual careers of lawyer and mother, her dedication to both, her stubbornness, and her sense of humor that would flash unexpectedly and make me laugh. If not for Thóra, I doubt very much that I would read the next book in the series. Thóra sparkled to such a degree that I know I will be reading more about her in future.
erikschreppel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
All in all a good read. The plot is well paced and the main characters likeable. I agree with another reviewer that the constant flirting between the two main protaganists was annoying by the end, but not enough to distract. The plot has enough turns to keep you from figuring it out too early, but the low number of characters does narrow the suspect list down quite a bit. Sigurdardottir is a good writer and this was a smart first adult novel. I am certainly interested in her next book.
PirateJenny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When a college student is found murdered with what seem to be ritual overtones, lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir is asked by the family to investigate, along with with German former police officer Matthew Reich. Turns out the student was a grad student in the study of witchcraft and may have stumbled upon some secret. Or perhaps one of the other students in his coven killed him.It took me a bit to get into this. The interaction between Thora and Matthew was felt stilted and awkward at first, but since that's how they felt around each other, it worked. And it eased itself out. I very much enjoyed it.
SandyLee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thora Gudmundsdottir is a lawyer and investigator in Iceland. A family hires her to find out how their son died. It appears to be a ritualistic murder because his eyes have been cut out and symbols were carved in his chest. The family attorney, Matthew Reich, joins in the investigation. There are a number of suspects from friends of the deceased who were into the same cultish rituals to professors. The deceased had been researching the ancient practice of witch hunts and how in Iceland it had been the men targeted rather than women. The deceased was also searching for old letters and writings to further prove his research. Thora is an engaging single mother with a keen intellect and balances home and work life with engaging humor.
Schatje on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Harald Guntlieb, a university student from Germany, is killed in Iceland and a friend of his is arrested. Harald's family doubts the police explanation and sends Matthew Reich to investigate further. Since Matthew speaks no Icelandic, he hires a lawyer, Thora Gudmundsdottir, to assist him. The murder investigation soon leads them to research the history of sorcery in Iceland, Harald's thesis topic.What this mystery really lacks is dramatic tension. There is virtually none. There are macabre touches but a "yuck" factor is not the same as suspense. The investigation plods along and no one is ever in any real danger. A great deal of luck and coincidence helps to solve the case: "'the evidence came from two different sources on the very same day'" (272). To make matters worse, there are plot tangents, mostly into Thora's personal life; she has to deal with some family issues which are totally irrelevant to the main plot. How she handles one particular family crisis is clearly intended to develop her character, but her traits could have been shown in her involvement in the murder investigation.There are problems with Thora's characterization. She seems immature for her age. She is so scatter-brained that she serves a guest a meal without a main course (254). She is so naive that she seems not to have discussed safe sex with her sixteen-year-old son. In addition, her knowledge of the law seems weak. She and her partner in a law firm are not particularly astute: "Who would consult a legal firm that specializes in contractual law yet messes up its own contracts" (6)? Later, "She was wondering whether she could be disbarred for serious abuse of her position and a flagrant conflict of interest. In fact she was unsure whether the law made such a provision . . ." Then she asks a police officer, "'Can I see [the accused] alone or am I supposed to be present when he's interrogated'" (271)?The relationship between Matthew and Thora is stereotypical. They are obviously intended to be foil characters in the vein of Brennan and Booth in "Bones" or the Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis characters in "Moonlighting." There is little original in their depiction - (not so)witty repartee with some unacknowledged sexual attraction. Two other novels in this series have been translated into English and I may read them, but only if nothing else demands my attention more strongly.
-Eva- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When a German student is found ritualistically murdered at his Icelandic university, his family hires attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to liaison with the local police due to the language barrier and because they think the police has arrested the wrong person. However, it turns out that they are asking Thóra for much more: they are asking her to find the real killer. Apart from some wonky mistranslations (due to the translator's lack of knowledge on a specific topic rather than actual errors), this is quite an enjoyable murder mystery. The characters are believable and the descriptions of Iceland quite intriguing, but the real bonus is Sigurðardóttir's detailed knowledge of Icelandic history, which she uses deftly as background to the contemporary story.
Scaryguy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Okay book. Characters were a bit two-dimensional.
cajela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating for its look into modern and mediaeval Iceland, this mystery gets pretty creepy. The victim is a German PhD student, obsessed with witchcraft and the historical persecution and torture of witches. He's found dead with mediaeval symbols carved in his body and his eyes missing. Our protagonist is a local Reykjavik lawyer hired by the victim's family, who think the police have arrested the wrong man. She's a warm,likeable and funny character, and the byplay between her in her practical clothes for the cold and the visiting German lawyer in his shiny town shoes and sharp suit is most amusing. I thought the writing was a bit on the clunky side, but perhaps that's the translator's fault.
ceilmary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is the first in a series by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. The book is based in Iceland, and it is fascinating to learn about the Icelandic witch trials (mostly men were prosecuted in Iceland). There is a bit of humor to offset the dark, somewhat grisly storyline. I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the next story in the series.
candlemark on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think my background in magic anthropology kept me from liking this book as much as I'd wanted to; the magical aspects and magic history simply weren't well-researched enough, and were far too fanciful. I wanted more on the tradition of witch hunts and witch executions in Iceland, as they're so different than those conducted elsewhere in Europe - and the author mentions this several times, but never really follows through on the information.That said, the thriller plot itself is rather well done, and the mystery is somewhere between a hard-boiled murder and a cosy, as the detective isn't exactly a hard case herself. She cares about her kids and her family life, and is more interested in getting the job done and going home than making a name for herself, having adventures, and being a sex symbol, which I like.The settings are very well done, and made me want to visit Iceland even more than I already did. And the translation was excellent; I felt like I was reading an original, with nuanced and locally flavoured dialogue, rather than an interpretation.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This author's books are a refreshing change from other Scandinavian thrillers where the main character is a dark depressive brooding sort of police officer. I like those too but young lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir is a cheerful single mother whose often hilarious private life enlivens the story. A lively and entertaining read.
TDoug1853 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maybe the book suffered in translation. The plot is excellent. And the descriptions of Iceland, contemporary and historical, are very interesting. But the characters are two-dimensional. Matthew is particularly problematic - he starts out a critical cold fish. The transition to a witty debonair lover is not done well. On the other hand, the protagonist, Thora, starts out clever and independent, but ends up scared to accept a relationship with Matthew and bumbling about trying to deal with her ex-husband (and father of her children) whom she calls worthless but who actually doesn't seem all that bad and her two children, who could not be more stereotypical. Troubled adolescent son and precocious, angelic but acerbically tongued 6- year old daughter. Along the way, we get the typical mother angst about having a career and not enough time with the kids. I liked the book enough to read the second in the series, but it's only going on list for when I get around to it.
gilly1944 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good. Good atmosphere, well developed story and a good central character. The Icelandic setting is excellent and the historical documentation seems authentic.
miyurose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thora Gudmundsdottir (have I mentioned how fascinated I am by the Icelandic patronymic naming system?) is very¿ normal. She¿s a lawyer, but not the usual sort you find in crime novels. She specializes in contractual law. When a German woman offers her more than her yearly salary to find out who really murdered her son, Thora finds she really can¿t refuse. After all, she¿s a divorced mother of two whose car is in the shop, yet again. Thora is matched up with Matthew Reich, who works for the family of the murdered young man. Thora and Matthew start out awkwardly, but soon grow into an easy companionship that pulls you through this story of witchcraft and rituals and bitterness and jealousy. I doubt we¿ll see more of Matthew later in the series, but I wouldn¿t mind it. I liked the simplicity and realness of Thora, and I look forward to meeting her again.
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting book. I know next to nothing about Iceland and was intrigued by the unusual setting. This is more of a novel than a mystery, it does not read like your average mystery paperback. I liked this book, but felt a little unsatisfied with the ending.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While not totally overwhelmed with this one, I'll chalk it up it being the first in a series of novels planned by this author. It takes a while for characters, etc. to be developed, so I'll wait for her second novel to see how it turns out. Last Rituals wasn't bad but it wasn't great. The main character is lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir, a lawyer in a tiny firm with an unruly secretary that came with the place. She doesn't make a lot of money to support her two children, so when she gets a very unusual request that promises to pay well, she is intrigued. It seems that a German student, one Harald Guntlieb, has been found dead in the History Department building at the local University. The police have a suspect in jail, but Harald's parents don't think he did it. They are paying Thora to look into the case, and send a representative (Matthew) with some files for her to look over. As time goes on, Thora & Matthew find out a lot about not only Harald, but his gruesome interests. The book has a bit of Icelandic church history in it, as well as some history of the dark arts. It also gives a peek into Thora's character, as a mom and as a lawyer. Some of the parts involving her kids were a bit unbelievable, but the mystery is okay and interesting.I would recommend it to anyone who has an interested in mysteries from outside the US, or anyone who likes Scandinavian mysteries. It's a series opener, so you know the best is yet to be.