Reviewed by Kathy Perschmann
Subtitled: An Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder
Rekyavik lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdottir gets a very unusual request. A German student, Harald Guntlieb, has been found murdered in the History Department building at the University-with some gruesome details. Even though a young man has been arrested, the family back in Germany wants help in making sure the investigation has been thorough, and that the police have the right man.
The Guntlieb family is wealthy, and they send a representative who works for them often, a German ex-policeman, Matthew Reich, He brings some documents to help Thóra, and will assist in the research. Against her better judgment, Thóra takes on the case-she is a single mother with two children and needs the money.
Some details about the grisly murder suggest sorcery. Harald was interested in witchcraft, and searching for a medieval manuscript written by a member of the Catholic Church who was a fanatic about seeking out witches, torturing and killing them. Harald seems to be more on a hunt for the manuscript than working on his thesis. Thóra and Mathew follow his steps, with the grudging help of Harald's friends Halldor, a medical student, and Marta, Briet, Brjann. And Andri. Hugi, who is accused of the murder, is resigned to his fate, but the circumstantial evidence against him is slowly chipped away by Thóra's investigation.
I was surprised by the outcome of the inquiry, and by the reasons for the mutilation of the corpse. The plot twists and turns in the historical search-and the unraveling of the motives for the murder are spellbinding. The setting is dark and dour, with Iceland's cold, snow, and treeless landscape depicted in detail. Thóra and her relationship with her children, co-workers, and with Mathew, is a delight.
Armchair Interviews says: Fortunately for mystery lovers, this is the first of a series.