Hannah Kent has produced an astonishingly good first novel, Burial Rites, based on the true story of a woman who was sentenced to be executed in Iceland in 1829 for her part in a murder. The book opens with the murder in the past and the trial having been held and with the culprits awaiting execution. The woman, Agnes is sent to stay with the family of the District Officer while she awaits her execution. The members of his family are all horrified by the news, but have to accept her presence, and as the winter wears on they variously make do with the situation. Agnes’ story is tragic, and as the time for her execution draws near, the question is still hangs in the air: did she or didn’t she commit the murder?
The bleak Icelandic winter landscape is as much a character in the story as the Edinburgh of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books and you will be reaching for a warm hoodie or blanket as you read it. It’s hard to find a redundant word in this book. It is seriously very good. Paperback, $33