Ari Thór Arason is a rookie cop, offered his first posting in the remote fishing village of Siglufjörður in Northern Iceland. The town is so remote that it can only be reached by passing through a mountain tunnel. The residents have been there that long, most born and bred in town, that everyone knows everyone, and as the newcomer, Ari Thór has a job on his hands just to be accepted in the community. Daubed ‘The Reverend’ due to his theological studies at college, Ari Thór is told early on by his boss and mentor Tómas, that nothing ever happens in Siglufjörður, a town so safe that residents don’t even have to lock their doors.
Isolated from the rest of the island by the relentless snow storms, the feeling of claustrophobia that prevails from this and the seemingly endless night, and suffering the pain of separation from his girlfriend Kristin, who chose to stay in Reykjavik, Ari Thór strikes up a friendship with the town’s second newest resident, Ugla.
When a young woman is found lying in the snow in a pool of her own blood, and soon after, the town’s only celebrity, an acclaimed author and chairman of the dramatic society, Hrólfur, is found dead at the foot of steps within the theatre. Far from a town where nothing happens, Ari Thór is now plunged into the depths of two investigations, but are they accidents or something more sinister. The more questions Ari Thór asks, the more doubts he begins to have. As the darkness, the snowstorm and the claustrophobia plunge him further into a personal darkness, he begins to realise that there is a killer on the loose in Siglufjörður and the list of suspects is long…
‘Snow Blind’ is the first novel in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland Series. With protagonist, Ari Thór, we have a new kind of hero. Newly qualified and a little naïve and idealistic, he is too green to have the fully formed intuition of the more seasoned detectives, and too junior in his role to make much on an impact with his observations anyway. While, some of his conjectures have merit, his Inspector, Tómas, has reason to doubt his assertions as he has grown up in the town, knows the residents better than most, and is somewhat blinded by his assertion that none could be a killer. It adds a different aspect to the novel, one which is welcomed and highly believable. Iceland has a reputation for an extremely low, almost none existent crime rate, something played to good effect throughout this story.
The remote nature of the location also adds a clever dimension to the story. Blocked off from the rest of civilisation, as it were, by the snowstorm and an unfortunate avalanche, it adds to the tension to know that even if they were inclined to run, the killers path is as blocked as that of the police. The feeling of suffocation felt by Ari Thór at the endless dark nights and the relentless bad weather comes across loud and clear on the page, as does the feeling of isolation, everything from his home to his solo shift at Christmas coming as it does to him alone. The slow build of his attraction to Ugla, something of a comfort blanket to Ari Thór, is just another symptom of his isolation and fear.
Ari Thór is an intriguing character. Pig-headed and stubborn at times, and defined by a difficult past, he has a strange kind of appeal to me. He is not your all action hero, although perhaps still younger and more idealistic than his colleagues in Siglufjörður. He still believes in justice and in trying to prove beyond all doubt the identity of a killer who has walked among them unknown for years, whose very presence confuses the investigation into the attack on the woman and Hrólfur’s death. This is a clever angle played by Jónasson, an unidentified female under attack in her home, whose story is interspersed among the ongoing story of Ari Thór and the residents of Siglufjörður, without revealing until nearly the end how it all ties in, a surprising and intriguing twist.
If you are looking for a fast action, high octane thriller, then this won’t be the book for you. The pace and tone of the story are very effective reflections of the setting, perfectly balanced and with enough foreboding to still keep you hooked. I listened to, rather than read this book, and in some ways am thankful as I know I would have spent as long trying to work out how to pronounce Siglufjörður as actually enjoying the story which would have been a travesty. By the end, I was truly invested in Ari Thór and the rest of the residents, and intrigued to see where the characters would lead us in the future.
Much more of a who-and-why-dunnit, there were enough interesting characters to keep suspicion moving from one to another, their back story so well explained that it really could have been any of them who did the ultimate deed. I certainly didn’t see the one twist coming, and it was clear from the ending that heartbreak is on the cards for our dear protagonist, bless him.
This was my first dip into Icelandic fiction but after heading back for second (and third) helpings, I’m hooked and I can see me going back again and again.
5 – super cool & wintry stars
Version reviewed: Audible Audio Book.