Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mini Reviews Part V - One of the Best Series You're Likely Not Reading

I am a pretty big advocate for translated works. It's selfish, I admit - I enjoy them and I want more available to me. And that's only going to happen if the industry can be convinced that there's a market for it here in the States. That's an issue I'm not really going to go into here. Instead, I want to highlight a series I quite enjoy and want to hopefully turn a few of you onto.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is a worldwide bestselling author who hails from Iceland. Surprisingly, she's one of the very few authors from that country to have been translated into english. I started reading her Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series in 2009, around the time the second book was being published here in the US. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I only returned to the series early this year when I took that second book on a trip and devoured it on the plane ride. I've since taken books three and four on plane rides as well (she makes for pretty excellent travel reading).

In the series debut, Last Rituals, we meet Thóra, a single mother and lawyer who's been hired by a German couple desperate to find out the truth about their son's murder. It's a investigation that links back to Iceland's own history of witchcraft and the witch trials of the sixteenth century, a history the dead man was apparently obsessed with in the days leading up to his murder. While the case reeks of possible dark ritual connections, Thóra and her assigned cohort, Matthew, aren't so sure. 

In reviewing the title six years ago, I'd noted that Thóra was not your typical sleuth. In fact, and this holds true of most of the series, she's kind of an atypical investigator. She's a lawyer and much of her investigative work is tied to clients she's involved with. But her increasing role in oddball cases also means she continues to be approached about exactly that: cases that are a bit off the wall and bizarre.

Rating: 4/5

In My Soul to Take, Thóra is representing a client intent on building a wellness spa. The client believes the land he's purchased is haunted and that the people who sold him the property hid that fact in order to sell. Ghosts could be bad for R&R, and he wants Thóra to prove the sale was under false pretenses so that he can at least get some of his purchase price refunded. But when a body is discovered nearby, Thóra finds herself thrust into a murder investigation with her client the prime suspect. 

This was an especially fun entry in the series as it includes both Icelandic folklore and more of the dark history of country. The mystery wasn't quite as tightly plotted as Last Rituals, but the character development makes up for that quite a bit. Thóra's relationship with Matthew and her troubles with her children get a lot of attention in this outing. Sigurdardóttir also injects quite a bit of humor into this installment (and subsequent ones).

Rating: 3.5/5

Ashes to Dust begins with the excavation of a town that's been buried under ash and dust for over thirty years. Thóra's client had intended to stop the excavation of his childhood home but was instead granted permission to be the first to enter. Unfortunately for the client this behavior is deemed quite suspicious when three bodies and a disembodied head are discovered in the basement of said home. 

This book begins with one of the most disturbing and strange murder scenes I've ever encountered. And it's fabulous! And let me stress again, highly disturbing.

The plot of Ashes to Dust is based on the eruption of Eldfell and the very real fate of Heimaey Island. And something called the Cod War. (Yep, as in fish.) I love, love, love the way Sigurdardóttir has built each of the first three books around such fantastic history. It's definitely one of my favorite aspects of the series as a whole. And it's interesting that, as the author noted in this interview, no one else took advantage of the Eldfell story for a book before this!

Rating: 3.5/5

The Day is Dark takes Thóra out of the comfort of Iceland and into the harsh environment of Greenland when her now longtime significant other, Matthew, pitches a new job to her. 

It seems Matthew's employers stand to lose quite a bit of money when a contractor they backed is dangerously close to defaulting on a job. The company in question, Berg Technology, had been hired by a British mining company to gather data and begin work on an excavation site in a remote area of Greenland. Berg's position there has been plagued by problems, though, including the disappearance of two employees and now the abandonment of the work site by all but two men. When the men in question can no longer be contacted, the bank decides it's time to investigate. 

If this were your first read in the series (and they can most definitely be read out of order) you'd get a pretty good feel for Thóra very early on. In spite of the weirdness of the situation, the temptation of a "vacation" with Matthew is enough for her to say yes. And this holds true even after seeing a bizarre video that seems to indicate the two men left at the site have most definitely suffered a violent demise. She then proceeds to get drunk and pack a bag filled with a very Greenland inappropriate wardrobe.

That's our heroine. She's human and I do love her all the more for it.

Greenland is anything but romantic, especially when Thóra and team find bones strewn about the office. There's no sign to be found of the two men, the locals are anything but welcoming, and the Berg employees back in Iceland are not talking.

I was going to say that unlike the others The Day is Dark is not based in actual Icelandic (or in this case Greenlandic) history, but that's not quite true. It's certainly inspired by actual history though it's not reflective of any particular or specific history as the others are. It's still quite fun and the setting makes it an especially chilling read (literally and figuratively!).

Rating: 4/5

The fifth book in the series, Someone to Watch Over Me, hit shelves earlier this year and is next up in my TBR. Book six in the series, The Silence of the Sea, is due out in February and I've also got Sigurdardóttir's very newly released (in the UK) standalone, The Undesired, currently waiting in my Christmas wish list. Sigurdardóttir has one additional title available here in the States, last year's standalone I Remember You. You can read my review of that one here.

1 comment:

Literary Feline said...

I am glad you highlighted this series! I have been wanting to read it since the first book came out here in the U.S.

I would like to see more translated books come our way too.