Orenda Week: Featured Author – Ragnar Jónasson (@ragnarjo;@OrendaBooks)

No feature about Orenda Books would be complete without taking a look at one of my favourite series of books – Dark Iceland by Ragnar Jónasson, beautifully translated by Quentin Bates (@graskeggur)

Now at the risk of sounding a bit like a CrimeFest Author-stalker, this series is yet another one I ‘stumbled’ upon having attended a panel at CrimeFest in May. The stories sounded intriguing with the isolation of the setting in the far north of Iceland, and the relative inexperience of hero of the hour, Ari Thór. So, I added it to the ever growing list of books to get downloaded onto my kindle. As time, like me, was relatively short, I saw that the series was available on audible so purchased the audio books too and set about catching up with our Icelandic policeman on one of my many trips north. Seemed fitting even if I never personally made it any further north than Aberdeen.

I honestly cannot believe I wasn’t aware of this series before. I certainly know it now. I devoured all three audio books in just over a week. I kid you not … Book 1 started 31st August, book 3 finished on my way back from Bloody Scotland on 11th September. Love, love, love them, so much so I now have kindle, audio and signed book copies of all three. If you aren’t familiar with them (shame on you), here’s what you’re missing.

The first book in the series which introduces our wonderful Icelandic hero Ari Thór Arason is ‘Snow Blind‘.

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The Official Book Blurb

Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.

Now this isn’t your typical (or my typical for that matter) fast action, high stakes thriller of a crime book. Iceland really isn’t that kind of country and Siglufjörður, a traditional haven in the north of the country, is not that kind of a town. When two crimes happen in quick succession, shocking the residents of the town, it is down to Ari Thór and his boss Tómas to solve mystery and to settle the unease which is growing among the residents. As an outsider, Ari Thór faces an uphill battle to gain their trust. As the elements conspire to increase his feeling of isolation and almost claustrophobia, and his relationship with his partner Kristin starts to falter, his personal battles threaten to eclipse the investigation.

The description of the landscape is absolutely perfect and hats off to Ragnar Jónasson and translator, Quentin Bates for capturing the sense of fear, of loneliness, that Ari Thór feels as an outsider. While the investigation may not seem to be as intense as many other police dramas, it is very much in keeping with the Icelandic way of life, and it does not stop the feeling of confusion and contradiction of many of the accounts from the suspects. There are so many stories, sub-plots and so much misdirection that if you work out just who did it before Ari Thór, then you’re a better sleuth than I. I had thought I figured out why, but the who escaped me. I was so wrong. I love it when that happens.

I think I kind of fell in love with the character of Ari Thór in this book. He is young, idealistic, principled, a terrible communicator, stubborn, unable to truly commit to anything before joining the police and feels very much out of his depth in this remote location. His mistakes are inevitable, but his determination to solve the puzzle makes him truly endearing.

My full review of ‘Snow Blind’ can be found here. The book can be purchased at the following links:

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

The second book in the series, set five years after the events of ‘Snow Blind‘ is ‘Night Blind.’

27248849The Official Book Blurb

Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him. The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman – shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will. Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all.

Now after ‘Snow Blind‘, much like the title, this book took a much darker turn. When his colleague is shot, Ari Thór and his former mentor Tómas are left to investigate. But this is no straightforward case. Drugs, politics and big business all feature with some prominent, and some notorious, names all falling under suspicion. As the location of the shooting is in itself the subject of some notoriety and intrigue, new and old cases begin to merge. Again there are so many secrets being kept, so much deception, that it is hard to know who to trust. Interwoven among the current story are diary entries from an mystery person which some how link to the case. It is not clear who they belong to and there are no shortage of suspects.

The atmosphere is tense, aided in its feeling of oppression by the lengthy nights of a harsh winter. Once again, the way in which this is captured on the page is one of the true delights of this story. That and the myriad of characters who move in and out throughout the novel. The relationship between Ari Thór and Tómas is special, more father and son than mentor/mentee. They are a perfect pair, Tómas keeping the younger Detective’s naturally impetuous and brooding nature under control.

My full review can be found here. ‘Night Blind’ is available to purchase at the following links:

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

The third book in the series, ‘Black Out‘ starts to bridge some of the gap between the first two novels.

29562395 The Official Book Blurb

On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance. Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjörður struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies… 

Set during the big volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, this adds another layer of threatening atmosphere to an already dark subject matter. I dislike that volcano. Not only is it almost impossible to spell or pronounce, but it didn’t half cause disruption. Nowhere is this captured more perfectly than in ‘Black Out’. While the eruption is still capturing the media’s attention, something far more sinister is occurring right under people’s noses. In the north of the country, the battered body of a man is found abandoned and Ari Thór and Tómas are called in to assist in the investigation. But all three of Siglufjörður’s cops are distracted by personal matters and this distraction could have dire consequences.

Touching on the subjects of people trafficking, sexual assault and abuse, this is a difficult story to listen to or read at times. There is a point, with the narrative moving from past to present and clearly outlining if not the motive then the source of the antagonist’s black nature, that as a reader we become privy to information that the police lack. When you understand the true jeopardy of their lack of progress with the case and the impact that withholding information may have, the tension really begins to build, leading to a pretty dramatic conclusion for all. The subject, like the skies, may be dark, but the characters are as wonderfully varied and skilfully crafted as ever. It is the description of setting is where the true power and beauty of this series lies; this book is no exception.

My full review can be found here. ‘Black Out‘ can be purchased from the following links:

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

Rupture‘, the fourth book in the Dark Iceland series is released in e-book format on 24th December and in paperback (UK) in January 2017 and can be ordered from the links below. Mine is already on pre-order and I can’t wait to see what is in store for poor old Ari Thór this time.

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The Official Book Blurb

1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjörður. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all…

In nearby Siglufjörður, young policeman Ari Thór tries to piece together what really happened that fateful night, in a town where no one wants to know, where secrets are a way of life. He’s assisted by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own. Things take a sinister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town of Siglufjörður in quarantine, the past might just come back to haunt them.

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

About the Author

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Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavik in 1976, and currently works as a lawyer, while teaching copyright law at the Reykjavik University Law School. In the past, he’s worked in TV and radio, including as a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before embarking on a writing career, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had several short stories published in German, English and Icelandic literary magazines. Ragnar set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) in Reykjavik, and is co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Iceland Noir, selected by the Guardian as one of the ‘best crime-writing festivals around the world’. Ragnar Jónasson has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, and he is currently working on his sixth. He lives in Reykjavik with his wife and two daughters.