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Last Rituals (Þóra Guðmundsdóttir #1)

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  3,378 ratings  ·  358 reviews
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 Guðmundsdóttir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn't long before Thóra and her ...more
Hardcover, 314 pages
Published October 2nd 2007 by William Morrow (first published 2005)
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Dec 18, 2014 Carmen rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mystery fans
Recommended to Carmen by: Library
Shelves: fiction, mystery
This is the first in a series starring a lawyer named Thóra. She is divorced. She has two children: a 6-year old girl and a 16-year-old boy. She falls into a "private investigator" role in this book, solving a gruesome murder for reasons that escape me.

The murder victim is a German grad student named Harald. He is strangled to death with some sort of belt-like object, and his eyes are gouged out. No one has found the eyes. A Satanic symbol (one assumes) is carved into the body. I'm thanking Sig
Goodreads says that this novel has been published in 30 countries--pretty impressive. One of the dust jacket blurbs remarks that this is "not the usual depressive Scandinavian detective story." Well, sorry, but I happen to really like depressive Scandinavian detectives (like Indridason's Erlendur). Yes, I did like the novel, especially the woman lawyer protagonist who suffers through various personal and domestic tribulations. However, the story suffers from a complete lack of suspense and emoti ...more
Vanessa (V.C.)
As many reviewers have already mentioned, this novel, although beginning with a promising start, lags rather quickly midway through. The main problem I have is mostly in the construction of the story and the characters. The plot in and of itself is interesting enough, but there is virtually NO suspense to keep you interested or to want you to keep reading. There's no sense of danger, no excitement, just a boring slog through Icelandic witchcraft history and unnecessary attempts at trying to focu ...more
This mystery novel has "amateur" written all over it. The author...

- does not understand narrative structure
- is completely ineffective with character writing
- writes unfocused viewpoint that lingers over boring, trite detail
- writes the dullest scenes
- and, just generally, seems to have no understanding about what it takes to capture and hold a reader's attention.

Many reviewers of this book seem to want to shift the blame to the translator, but it just isn't possible to absolve the author of ev
Nancy Oakes
While not totally overwhelmed with this one, I'll chalk it up to 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 unu
Taken from original review posted at

I have decided to start a love affair with Nordic Noir, but I haven't had much exposure, so I decided to dive in head first with Last Rituals, chosen because because of its premise – a German student has been killed most gruesomely; his eyes have been gouged out and his body is covered in weird symbols, tattoos and carvings. The police believe that the case is cut and dry, but Harald Guntlieb’s parents don’t believe that the small t
I would rate this at three and a half stars.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir (Yrsa, Daughnter of Sigurd, named in the typical Icelandic fashion) is yet another Scandinavian mystery, probably closer to Stieg Larsson than to Henning Mankell or Arnaldur Indridason. Where the two latter writers are more terse, Yrsa, like Stieg Larsson, works through a large cast of characters which has the effect of making Last Rituals a bit on the flaccid side. It runs on for over three hundred pages, including interviews with
Even thought Last Rituals starts with a gruesome murder, the rest of the book is fascinating romp through the ancient history of Iceland as well as through the contemporary events in attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir's life. Thora is an appealing main character. She has a sense of humor about her life and she also deals with the realities of being a single working mother with a practical, down-to-earth approach. When she agrees to help the German Matthew Reich to look into the bizarre death of a Ger ...more
Maria João Fernandes
Tinha muita curiosidade em conhecer o trabalho desta autora. Tenho pena de não dar mais do que 3 estrelas neste livro, mas a verdade é que ficou bastante aquém das minhas expectativas. Adorei a personagem principal - Porá - e o advogado alemão Matthew. A evolução da relação de ambos ao longo do livro é um ponto forte desta história. Bem como a vida pessoal da advogada: os filhos, o ex-marido e os dramas familiares. Esta parte cativou-me imenso, tanto como a evolução da investigação por parte do ...more
Matt Poland
I've been on a Scandinavian crime fiction jag, and this was the first disappointment. There's a fair amount of interesting detail about brilliantly creepy Icelandic folklore, but that doesn't make up for an unfocused narrative with a minimum of suspense. The writing is also fairly inconsistent, relying on cliches and odd little asides (Thora's opinions on global warming and politics, for example) that, while humanizing, don't add much to a murder mystery that dabbles in the occult. Since Bernard ...more
I must admit I like Yrsa's books and the main character. This one was even better than The Day is Dark I read as 1st (although it's 3rd in the series). The plot is interesting and will keep you reading till the surprising end. The history of Iceland is an integral part of the story - so you'll learn quite a lot about it without having the feeling you're being instructed. Thóra's sense of humour might not be everyone's cup of tee but I think she is fun especially in her comments on Bella, the sec ...more
Ashley Trotter
okay, so it may have been the translation; i doubt i'll ever know because i don't read icelandic and probably won't learn. but. the main character was a twit. she was naive and self-absorbed and i just couldn't care about her melodramatic opinions of body mods or her constant need to (fail at) prove(ing) how hardboiled she was.

needless to say, i got halfway through and didn't feel compelled to finish.

i really, really hope it didn't end with her son being in some black magic cult or something. i
Katie Curlee
Honestly, I just became so intrigued by Iceland, and started looking for translated versions of Icelandic authors' works, set in Iceland. The most well known author is a guy named something like Indridason, but his work was too stark, and cold. Sigurdardottir writes much more warmly, and her novels translate very well. I found the pacing of her mysteries to be really gripping. I hope they will be translating more of her stuff into English.

On a side note, the Icelandic language is so fascinating.
When a student's body is found mutilated at the Icelandic college he attends, an arrest of one of his friends is quickly made. All is not as it seems however. The student's German family decides to hire an Icelandic lawyer to further investigate because they are not at all convinced that the police arrested the correct person. Here enters Thora Gudmundsdottir, a divorced attorney and mother of two who is struggling to to keep her law firm and family afloat.

Labeled as "An Icelandic Novel of Secr
LAST RITUALS. (2007). Yrsa Sigurdardottir. ***.
This was the first novel from this novelist from Iceland. There were lots of kudos when it came out, and it was subsequently translated into “over thirty languages.” It was meant to be representative of Icelandic noir, but it really came out to be a cozy with a few weird scenes thrown in to make it seem non-cozy. The jacket gives a lot away; the novel is described as one of “secret symbols, medieval witchcraft, and modern murder.” Well…there you are

Harald Guntlieb is a strange young man from Germany who has come to Iceland to complete his studies on the subject of witchcraft. He is drawn to the area because Iceland was unique in the fact that it had many male witches in its history, as opposed to the rest of Europe where female witches dominated. He came by his knowledge of the subject from his grandfather, who collected various medieval artifacts and works. Harald was his only heir and lived quite an affluent lifestyle. For Har
Anthony Fitzgerald
I think at this stage I'm Icelandic Novel'ed out, but it was nice to have a change of pace with a female protagonist! Especially since I had a hard time breaking away from the Kurt Wallender's (lead character from Henning Mankell's novels) image over my time spent in fictional Iceland.

I guess I went into this book expecting a sci-fi twist where witchcraft is actually performed (and takes affect) throughout as opposed to the more realistic approach the book offers. That aside, I did enjoy follow
The body of student Harald Guntlieb is discovered in a small room at the University of Reykjavik. He has been strangled and the police treat the case as a straightforward murder. They quickly arrest Hugi, a drug dealer and the last person who Harald was seen with. However, there are some strange details about the body which make his family suspect that there is more to the murder than the police are saying. They hire attorney Thora Gudmundsdotter to investigate along with Matthew Reich, a friend ...more
This novel was marketed in a manner that set it up as something of an Icelandic "Da Vinci Code," but in execution, "Last Rituals" is a traditional mystery whose events lack the immediacy and the clever puzzles of that better-known suspense novel, however better written it could arguably be.

Another disappointment arises in the shallow depictions of character Sigurðardóttir uses for her cast: they are naive and over-explanatory in a way that may make the reader feel clever, but that same reader is
Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is a likable book. The first half moves along smoothly but then the book starts dragging and doesn't pick up again until the denouement. I really wanted to love this book-the blurb said it was about medieval Iceland, Icelandic myths, and other enticing topics-but I only liked it. I did like the protagonist Thora who, while she doesn't really stand out from other mystery/thriller detectives, was a pleasant narrative voice.

I got a little tired of being told how
It passed all of yesterday when my head was hurting, and D was too sick to talk to me. They mystery was standard, and not overly accomplished. The best thing about reading foreign mystery novels is the by-the-way things you pick up by accident. What people call their dogs, or what kind of food they think is a romantic night out. Or how this book always tells what language a conversation is held in: English, German, or Icelandic. I don't know exactly what that means, but I'm sure it does signify. ...more
Caro Márquez
I tried, I really did, but I couldn't get through first 50 or 60 pages. I couldn't get into caring for a dead student or for detective Thora.
I might give it a try again after some time though.
Maggie Gordon
Last Rituals was, quite literally, the most boring murder mystery that I have ever read. Despite the fact that it was supposed to be about witchcraft in Iceland, the plot was incredibly dry and entirely devoid of any suspense. Generally, a mystery is supposed to convey a sense of danger, but this book was a very bland, plodding description of the two main characters methodically researching the last few months of a victim's life. While this might be what real lawyers and PIs do, such banal activ ...more
Excellent, well-written, complex. Lots of characters, most with Icelandic names, but I quickly became accustomed to them. This is the second book by Sigurðardóttir that I've read and enjoyed both of them. This book has murder - a gruesome one - sorcery and witchcraft, mixed-up young people, and an MC who is a young single mother and lawyer. A very nice ensemble, imo.

No spoilers here, just acclaim for an overall good book to read in the dark, with some thunder in the distance, and a glass of win
Claire Smith
The difficulty with reading a book like this is that I'm never sure how much of what I liked/disliked was down to the translation. That said, I found the language really stilted and awkward; this meant there wasn't much of a flow between scenes, or even dialogue, and it felt very disjointed as a result. It also detracted from the atmosphere, I felt; the tension kept stuttering, and it never really became the kind of story promised in the blurb. The academic information was fascinating, and I've ...more
This book was given to me as a gift for my upcoming vacation. I wanted to read an Icelandic novel on my trip to Iceland. Apparently Yrsa Sigurdardottir is the second largest mystery writer in Iceland, or so I was informed while on tour. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. There were some moments where the language felt silly or unnatural, but the characters felt real enough. I was entertained. I wanted to solve the mystery and discover the truth of the murder and subsequent witchcraft tie in. My mai ...more
Everyone in our Saturday Slaughters clamored for an Icelandic author so I chose this one. Initially I was very excited about the choice but once I sat down to actually delve into it all interest vanished. The author had a prior career as a humorous children's author and says she gave it up to write crime because it was hard to be funny. I think the real reason is that she wanted to jump on the very lucrative Scandi crime train and make a financial killing before the crash.

Last Rituals is her de
This is a very straight up, plainly told murder mystery that gets the job done without muss or fuss but not, unfortunately, with much verve or sparkle. There is an overall flatness and, at times, dullness to the narrative, with much of it conveyed through big chunks of extended dialogue scenes between characters, particularly when it comes to the background of the story (the history of witches and witchcraft in Iceland). So at times I felt like I was reading a history textbook, and couldn't help ...more
Toni Osborne
First novel featuring attorney Thora Gudmunddottir

This crime fiction captures and brings our attention to the witch hunts of the 1600s, a darker side of Iceland's rich history.

The setting is contemporary and the historical elements are flawlessly interwoven into the story. As a main plot, the author recounts the murder of a German student Harald Guntlieb, known to be unconventional and born into a wealthy Bavarian family.

His body was discovered at the University of Iceland and police hastily arr
Janette Fleming
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 ...more
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The Readers: Book #5; Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir 6 51 Jan 05, 2013 06:11PM  
Scandinavian and ...: Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir 43 76 Jul 03, 2012 12:35PM  
  • Frozen Assets (Officer Gunnhilder, #1)
  • Hypothermia (Inspector Erlendur #8)
  • The Black Path (Rebecka Martinsson, #3)
  • Lucifer's Tears (Inspector Kari Vaara, #2)
  • Night Rounds (Inspector Huss #2)
  • Unspoken (Anders Knutas, #2)
  • The Cruel Stars of the Night (Ann Lindell, #6)
  • Echoes from the Dead (The Öland Quartet #1)
  • Sun and Shadow (Inspector Winter, #3)
  • The Fourth Man
  • Vårlik
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir graduated from high-school in 1983, finished a B.Sc. in civil engineering from the University of Iceland in 1988 and M.Sc in the same field from Concordia University in Montreal in 1997.

Yrsa now works as a civil engineer for the company Fjarhitun, as well as being a writer.

In 1998 Yrsa published her first book for children, Þar lágu Danir í því (The Danes Were in Trouble There
More about Yrsa Sigurðardóttir...

Other Books in the Series

Þóra Guðmundsdóttir (6 books)
  • My Soul to Take
  • Ashes to Dust
  • The Day is Dark
  • Someone to Watch Over Me: A Thriller
  • Brakið
My Soul to Take Ashes to Dust The Day is Dark Ég man þig Someone to Watch Over Me: A Thriller

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