About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

62. - 612.) Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir – Thora Gudmundsdottir has a quiet practice of law in Reykjavik, Iceland. Life is hectic as she is the single mother of two children.

Suddenly her life changes when she is offered a huge fee to help investigate the death of Harald Guntlieb, a young German studying history in Iceland. Matthew Reich, a security official for the Guntlieb family bank, is looking for an Icelander to help him navigate bureaucracies and deal with the language as he does not speak Icelandic. While the friend of Harald in police custody is a credible suspect the family has doubts he is the real killer.

Thora is immediately intrigued though startled when she learns Harald was involved with sorcery, self-mutilation and erotic asphyxiation. She is shaken when she finds Harald’s eyes have been extracted after death and a mysterious symbol carved on his body.

Harald has had a long interest in witchcraft. He has come to Iceland to compare witchcraft trials in Iceland and with Europe, especially Germany. Iceland has been different in that most of those tried and executed were men while on the continent it was women.

It is a macabre subject that is reflected in Harald’s life. He has had a deep personal interest in sorcery. What he has done to his tongue made me flinch when I read the passage. While definitions of normal are difficult I have no hesitation in calling Harald abnormal.

The contrast could not be greater with Thora’s personal life. She has a sunny 6 year old and a moody teenager. They are living average lives far from the dark world of Harald and his friends.

The investigation is well done. Thora and Matthew work well together assessing information and conducting interviews.

Those book reviewers who have described the mystery as creepy are accurate.

Sorcery is not an area of history I have pursued. The mystery did not whet my interest. We do not have to look back centuries to find investigations into alleged black arts. A couple of years ago I read The Butcher’s Tale by Helmut Walser Smith. It was a non-fiction book studied by my younger son, Michael, at university for a history course. It involves the murder of a young man in 1900 in East Prussia and the belief of many villagers that he was killed by a Jewish resident as a ritual killing for blood. Belief in the blood libel persisted into the 20th Century. I will be posting a review of the book later this year.

I will read more of Sigurdardottir’s books. Thora is an engaging character. The history of Iceland featured prominently in the book.

I have had difficulty categorizing the book on whether it is a legal mystery. Normally I think of legal mysteries as really courtroom trial mysteries. I have arbitrarily decided for myself that legal mysteries are books involving practising lawyers and are not limited to courtroom dramas. (Sept. 28/11)


  1. Bill - Interesting question of whether this is a legal mystery...I'm so glad you liked this book. I very much did myself. I do like Thóra's character quite a lot, and she faces realistic struggles both on the home front and in the investigation of this case. Another thing I really liked about this novel is the humour. There's a fine, rich sense of humour that just weaves its way through the story and lightens it just the right amount (for me).

  2. I can see the problem with the subgenres here. But no matter what, I hope you will keep reading Yrsa´s books. I liked the first, but I think the second and third were even better. That may just be me, though, I rarely like the first in a series as much as the later volumes so perhaps I just have to know the characters first to really appreciate a series.

  3. Margot: Thank you for the comment. You make a good point about the humour adding to the book. Not all is grey and grim in Iceland.

  4. Dorte: Thanks for commenting. Do you have any issues with categorizing mysteries? I agree with your thoughts on 2nd and 3rd often being better than 1st. More often than not I find the same improvement in a series.