In her third Thóra Gudmundsdóttir novel, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is back doing what she does best: providing the reader with a quirky conundrum in the form of a mystery surrounding criminal activity. Ashes to Dust is also fortuitously contemporary in that the plot involves reflections back to the 1970s, when Iceland experienced another terrible volcano eruption. In 2010, the majority of the global media focused on the volcanic ashes’ impact on international air travel, ignoring the impact on Iceland itself, to the point of negligence. If you’d like to discover something of the impact locally, you can do no better than read this novel to feel the flavour. But what of the plot and thriller nature of Yrsa’s Ashes to Dust?
Our busy protagonist lawyer Thóra has a new client, Markús Magnússon. Markús was a teenager in the 70s, and his then home was buried under the layers of dust, in an area now known as the ‘Pompeii of the North’ and subject to current historic interest excavation. It’s the excavation that causes Markús to become so protective and seek legal advice. Eventually, he gets to the basement of his old home before anyone, but the discovery is immense: three full dead bodies are uncovered along with the head of one other in a box.
Thóra roots and seeks – as a good lawyer does – for her client: innocent until proven guilty. But this does not prove to be a simple case, as Thóra quickly discovers. Ably assisted, and also seemingly, many times hindered by her legal practice secretary Bella, Thóra navigates webs of deceit and a maze of lies before she reaches the truth. The culture and changing culture of Icelanders is expertly put under the microscope. Do read the novel to get immersed in the detail of the investigation.
This is Yrsa Sigurðardóttir on continuing form with great stories to tell, but I have to express one reservation. The translation from Philip Roughton has lost some of the author’s light touch of speech and unique humorous voice. In addition, the text is very Americanised in its English which does not sit well against the first two translated novels here in the UK. A few pages were so littered with words starting with ‘mis-’ that I expected Hilary Clinton to make a misspeaking appearance in the story. (She did not.) Let’s hope the next one, to which I do look forward, sees a return to the form of Last Rituals, which captured the author’s essence perfectly.
And for those who like to collect, why no hardcover for this one?
With thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the copy reviewed.