Ari Thór Arason works as a cop in the small northern Icelandic town of Siglufjörður. His girlfriend Kristin has moved to the town to be with him, working as a Doctor in the nearby town of Akureyri, and between them they have a young son, Stefnir. Overlooked for promotion when his boss, Tómas, moved with his wife to Reykjavik, and still struggling with the towns reluctance to fully accept the outsider, Ari Thór has come to grudgingly accept his lot, which secretly resenting new boss Herjólfur.
But that resentment is to be short lived as on a dark night, while Ari Thór is at home in bed with flu, Herjólfur answers a call out at an old abandoned house on the edge of Siglufjörður. With an overwhelming feeling that something is wrong, Herjólfur is wary, knowing that no one has any cause to be in this house, a place with a history nearly as dark as the night that surrounds it.
When Ari Thór receives a call from Herjólfur’s wife, he knows that something is wrong. Heading out the last place that Herjólfur was known to be, Ari Thór finds his boss grievously wounded, a point blank gun-shot. But who would have reason to shoot the police officer, someone so new to the town, much newer than Ari-Thór, or was it just bad luck which brought Herjólfur to this time and place, on a call out which should have been Ari Thór’s?
With the local station short staffed, help is sent from Reykjavik in the form of Tómas, and the pair begin to investigate just who may have the motive to want Herjólfur dead. Their investigations become tangled with drug dealers, compromised politicians, a young woman on the run from a troubled past, and the last family to own the infamous farmhouse. Could it be the ghosts of crimes past are now haunting the present too? And battling both the flu and his growing paranoia about his relationship with Kristin, can Ari Thór stay focused long enough to help Tómas conclude this seemingly unsolvable crime.
‘Night Blind’ by Ragnar Jónasson is the second in the Dark Iceland series of books and is set some five years after the first book, ‘Snow Blind’.
We are reunited with our hero Ari Thór and his boss Tómas, although with the exception of Kristin, all other characters are new and as such, with the book covering previous events quite concisely, could be read as a stand-alone. I think to do so, you would perhaps miss some of the understanding of Ari Thór’s character, as at times he can come across as a petulant child, bitterness and a perhaps little pettiness at losing out on the Inspector’s job to Herjólfur a clear indicator of that. But then he is still young and very ambitious in a town which perhaps has limited opportunity for him, so perhaps he can be forgiven, just a little.
Despite this, Ari Thór continues to be a very complex character. Shaped and haunted by a difficult past, he is not a person who can let things go easily. His inability to communicate, and his short temper, ruined his relationship with Kristin before, and you know, throughout this story, that he has perhaps not learned the lessons he should. This ongoing personal crisis is a key distraction for Ari Thór, and with Tómas faced with some other personal dilemmas throughout the investigation, serves to challenge the pair to great effect.
Interspersed with the current action is a series of journal entries of someone who appears to be in a psychiatric hospital. There is no mention of who, or in reality why, and how this fits in with Ari Thór’s investigation is not clear. But it does fit somehow, and with so many people hiding things from the two police officers, it could be almost anyone. Maybe because I was listening rather than reading, but I kept changing my mind over who it could be. The who and the why are revealed towards the end, and I will be honest and say that I didn’t see it coming until it nearly hit me bang in the face. Brilliant deflection which skilfully hid the killer’s identity right to the end.
Much like ‘Snow Blind‘, this is not your fast paced thrill ride of a novel. Even with a new tunnel providing greater and quicker access to the rest of the island, Siglufjörður is still in the far north of Iceland and things can only move so far, so quickly, no matter how seemingly urgent the investigation. What the story is, is high on atmosphere, from the abandoned house at the start of the story to the oppressive darkness which accompanies the start of winter, the setting is perfectly bleak and as isolating as ever, and packed with new and intriguing characters, all delightfully deceitful, with very personal agendas.
As always, the sense of the community of Siglufjörður is captured beautifully, and you can picture the residents; their shock at the nature of the crime, and yet still carrying on in their day to day lives as though nothing has truly changed; as Jónasson is so brilliant at capturing their spirit on the page. And the relationship between Ari Thór and Tómas is beautiful to read, more than mentor and mentee, more father and son as one guides the other towards becoming a better police officer. I’m not sure it would work as well with any other pairing – they have been perfect together since the start.
With book 3, ‘Black Out’, starting to fill in the intervening years, there is still so much of Ari Thór and Tómas’ story to be told and I cannot wait to read the remaining novels.
A dark, haunting and occasionally disturbing 5 stars from me.
‘Night Blind’ by Ragnar Jónasson is published by Orenda Books and is available to purchase here: