Last Rituals by Ysra Sigurdardottir

Continuing my love affair with Nordic Noir, I picked up this book, Last Rituals, by an author I hadn’t yet read, Ysra Sigurdardottir. Commencing with a suitably grisly discovery, when a young German student’s body is found on a university campus, sans eyes and with eerie markings inscribed on his body, the reader is introduced to Thora Gudmundsdottir, a lawyer who is hired by the family of the young man to investigate his death. While a suspect has been placed in custody, the family don’t believe he’s the culprit. Teaming up with a man sent from Germany to support her investigation, the blunt and seemingly humourless, Matthew Reich, Thora and her new partner uncover not only fascinating aspects of Iceland’s history, but the victim’s enthrallment with the occult. From ancient caves and supernatural and other traditions, burial rights, superstitions and precious documents worth a fortune and which could change history, Thora and Matthew become immersed in a deadly game of hide and seek, power, lies and deception, all tinged with witchcraft and dark magic. Can they break the spell hanging over this case or will they too fall victim to the forces arraigned against them?

What I really enjoy about Nordic Noir is the emphasis on character as much as plot and this book is no exception. As the investigation continues and clues and dead-ends are explored, the reader is invited to get to know single-mother, Thora, and her children and familial life better as well as the professional and slow-burning personal relationship she builds with Max.

History and the wild and majestic Icelandic landscape become as much characters in this book as the murder investigation, adding richness and depth to the sometimes staccato scene changes and otherwise excellent dialogue.

Slow but rewarding, I look forward to more in this series.

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Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø.

18761910A huge fan of Jo Nesbo books, I couldn’t believe Midnight Sun (Blood on the Snow #2) had somehow slipped under my radar. Published late last year, it tells the story of Jon, a troubled young man who, through a series of circumstances told retrospectively, is on the run and in fear of his life. Fleeing to the utmost north, the land of the Midnight Sun, he hopes to avoid the deadly repercussions of one of Oslo’s most feared Underworld figures: the Fisherman.

Finding himself in a small town run by an unusual religious sect and where tensions are high, Jon seeks solace and safety in a remote cabin. Only, solitude gives him time to ponder what he’s done and where his future might lie as well as to consider the very real attractions of not only the little township (where everybody knows your name), but the newly widowed Lea and her son, Knut. It also enables him to recognise that when there is a price to be paid for perceived disloyalty and those out to extract it are professional killers, safety is an illusion.

While I enjoyed this book very much, I felt it was somewhat lacking in terms of … what? Characterisation, perhaps… plot, maybe? I am uncertain. Nesbo is such a great writer and his plots are normally dense and tight and so believable, especially when they’re most thrilling. Likewise, his characters are rich and complex, even with his one-offs. This book, however, was comparatively quite ordinary. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, it was. But the emotional depths that usually make his books a stand out were mostly absent. So much so, certain things develop too quickly to be anything but convenient narrative devices that push the story along. While there is a clever plot twist, it too is not so much remarkable but implausible as the story becomes more Disney than Nordic noir.

All in all, a sound read, but not one of Nesbo’s strongest.


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