Excerpt from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Burial Rites

By Hannah Kent

Burial Rites
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2013,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2014,
    352 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Suzanne Reeder

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Steina flinched. "Do you mean the murders?"

Lauga nodded, her blue eyes wide with sudden solemnity. "The trial was held at your home."

Blöndal inclined his head. "Yes. The murders of Natan Ketilsson the herbalist and Pétur Jónsson. As this most unfortunate and grievous tragedy occurred within the Húnavatn District, it was my responsibility to work with the magistrate and Land Court in Reykjavík to come to some sort of arrangement regarding the persons accused."

Lauga picked up the paper and walked to the window to read by its light. "So it is all over."

"On the contrary. The three accused were last October found guilty of both murder and arson in the court of this country. The case has now proceeded to the Supreme Court in Copenhagen, Denmark. The King"—and here Blöndal paused for effect—"the King himself must learn of the crime, and agree with my original sentence of execution. As you can read for yourself, they have each received a capital sentence. It is a victory for justice, as I am sure you will agree."

Lauga nodded absently, still reading. "They're not being sent to Denmark?"

Blöndal smiled, and swung back on the wooden chair, lifting the heels of his boots off the ground. "No."

Lauga looked up at him, puzzled. "Then, sir, excuse my ignorance, but where are they to be…?" Her voice trailed off.

Blöndal scraped back his chair and rose to stand next to her at the window, ignoring Steina. He peered out through the dried sheep's bladder that had been pulled across to serve as a pane, noticing a small vein twisted in its dull surface. He shuddered. His own house had glass windows.

"They shall be executed here," he said finally. "In Iceland. In the north of Iceland, to be exact. I and the magistrate who presided at Reykjavík decided it would be…" He hesitated, deliberating. "More economical."

"Really?"

Blöndal frowned at Steina, who was eyeing him with suspicion. She reached over and plucked the slip of paper out of Lauga's hand.

"Yes, although I will not deny that the execution also brings with it an opportunity for our community to witness the consequences for grave misdemeanor. It requires careful handling. As you are aware, clever Sigurlaug, criminals of this stature are usually sent abroad for their punishment, where there are jailhouses and the like. As it has been decided that the three will be executed in Iceland, in the same district in which they undertook their crime, we are in need of some sort of custodial holding until the date and place of execution have been agreed upon.

"As you well know, we have no factories, no public house in Húnavatn that we may use to accommodate prisoners." Blöndal turned and eased himself back into the chair. "This is why I decided that they should be placed on farms, homes of upright Christians, who would inspire repentance by good example, and who would benefit from the work these prisoners do as they await their judgment."

Blöndal leaned across the table towards Steina, who stared at him, one hand over her mouth and the other clutching the letter. "Icelanders," he continued, "who would be able to fulfill their duties as government officials by providing this accommodation."

Lauga looked at the District Commissioner in bewilderment. "Can't they be placed in holdings at Reykjavík?" she whispered.

"No. There are costs." He waved his hand in the air.

Steina's eyes narrowed. "You're putting them here? With us? Because the court in Reykjavík wants to avoid the cost of sending them abroad?"

"Steina," Lauga warned.

"Your family will be compensated," Blöndal said, frowning.

"What are we supposed to do? Chain them to our bedposts?"

Blöndal slowly rose to his full height. "I have no choice," he said, his voice suddenly low and dangerous. "Your father's title comes with responsibility. I'm sure he would not question me. Kornsá has too few hands to work it, and there is the issue of your family's financial state." He approached Steina, looking down at her small, dirty face in the dim light. "Besides, Steinvör, I will not suffer you and your family to hold all three convicts. It is only one of the women." He placed a heavy hand upon her shoulder, ignoring the way she recoiled. "You're not afraid of your own sex now, are you?"

Excerpted from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Copyright © 2013 by Hannah Kent. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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