Icelandic lawyer, Thóra Gudmundsdottir is puzzled when German resident, Amelia Guntlieb, wants to hire her to find out who really murdered her son, Harald. The Guntlieb family believes the police arrested the wrong man, and because Harald was studying at a university in Reykjavík, where Thóra lives, they ask her to look into the matter. Thóra doubts she can find evidence to change events, but since she needs the Guntlieb's generous fee, she agrees to investigate. Sent to assist her, is the family's representative Matthew, a stoic, condescending man. But as Thóra delves into Harald's somewhat disturbing life, she comes to appreciate Matthew's presence.
The development of this relationship is one of the book's positive aspects, but I had problems with Yrsa Sigurdardóttir's debut mystery, LAST RITUALS. First, there's little emotion throughout most of the book. Other than doing a good job, nothing's at stake for Thóra. No threats, no violence, and little action. Interviews, some leg work, and document reading makes the novel's pacing painfully slow in places. For instance, sixteen pages show Thóra reading a report about Harald's life. Granted, Harald's life was odd and he was working on a comparison of witch hunts in Iceland and Germany (plenty of historical detail is provided), but the novel was easy to put down in a number of places.
Another problem is that Thóra's voice is so intellectual and formal much of the time that it was tough to warm up to the character. The long, carefully articulated inner monologue didn't sound natural, even for a smart lawyer. This book was translated so who knows if this was the author's style or a translation issue? The same applies to the use of clichés like "barrel of laughs" or "for all the tea in China".
On the upside, we see more emotion from Thóra with her children in a tense subplot. Also, the main plot is intriguing and the identity of the killer surprised me, but then I rarely guess the killer's identity. There weren't many descriptions of Iceland, but the few I read were great, and I'd love to read more stories set in this country.