May 8, 2012

Book Review: Ashes to Dust

Ashes to Dust is Yrsa Sigurdardottir's third thriller starring Icelandic lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. A busy single mother and recent grandmother, Thóra thought she had taken on a relatively simple new case: her client, Markús Magnússon, engaged her to help him stop excavations into his family's former home, which had been buried under a volcanic eruption along with most of the Westmann Islands 30 years ago, when Markús was just a teenager.

But it turns out that what Markús didn't want the archeologists to discover was a cardboard box containing a human head. A girl named Alda, whom Markús had had a crush on, asked him to hide the box for her the day before the eruption. To complicate the gruesome situation: the basement also contains three complete bodies, which Markús claims he had never seen before. The four dead men couldn't be Icelandic--the country's population is so small they would've been missed--so the search is on to find out who the victims were. As Thóra is learning the hard way, though, Iceland's small, insular society has a long memory and is good at keeping secrets.

As Thóra attempts to clear her client's name, she seeks out Alda--who turns up dead, an apparent suicide. Now no one can back up Markús's story, unless Thóra can convince the islanders to finally come clean about what happened just prior to that eruption three decades earlier. As Thóra's investigation continues, surprising truths emerge, and Ashes to Dust will keep you guessing until its last few pages.

This was a decent mystery, but I didn't like it as well as any of Arnaldur Indridason's books, or Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath (which was actually the first book review I ever published on Quirky Bookworm!).

But, if you've finished Indridason and are looking for more Icelandic mystery, I'd recommend trying this series. I agree with Jill that the history of the Westmann Islands was actually really fascinating, and it made me do some serious Wikipedia-ing. The average daytime high of the islands in July is 52 F, which sounds pretty heavenly to this Arizona resident right now...

Rating: 3 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Um, maybe. If she doesn't mind some gory details. And self-mutilation.

Have you read any Icelandic mysteries? Ever been to Iceland?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through to buy something I'll earn a few cents. This review was originally published in Shelf Awareness for Readers on Tuesday, April 3.