A student is found slain in his Reykjavík university department, his body mutilated in ways that suggest occult rituals (but also outré and dangerous sexual practices). The student has been preparing a dissertation on the comparative history of witch hunts. Early investigation of his death coincides with the disappearance of a historic letter from one sixteenth-century ecclesiastic to another that may deal with witchcraft as well.
I suspect from the novel's early chapters that I will learn something about witchcraft, its history and its reception in Iceland. But I'll also keep in mind other Nordic crime novels from the late 1990s onward in which satanic or other occult practices (or fear thereof) lie at the heart of murders. I wrote about this in 2007 in a discussion of Åsa Larsson's Sun Storm (published as The Savage Altar in the UK). Helene Tursten's The Glass Devil and Jo Nesbø's The Devil's Star would also make the list.
While I go read more of Last Rituals, I'll throw the question open to readers, especially those from the Nordic countries: Have satanism and witchcraft been on people's minds in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland in the past ten years? If so, why? And what other crime novels have taken up the subject?
Last Rituals has had its mischievous moments, too. One early highlight is an unexpectedly lighthearted exchange over autopsy photographs that includes the line "Fancy a pizza?"
(Yrsa Sigurðardóttir will be a member of my crime fiction and translation panel at Bouchercon 2009 along with Steven T. Murray, Tiina Nunnally and Robert Pépin.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2009