This is one of the books that started me on the road to becoming a lifelong Orenda Books fan. There were a cluster of three books that I picked up on during my visit to my first ever Crimefest in Bristol back in 2016, all published by Orenda Books, although I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t even know who Orenda Books were! One of those three books was Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson, and from attending one of Ragnar’s panels I was intrigued by not only the idea of reading something by an Icelandic author, an absolute first for me, but also the premise of the story. The location, the isolation, the whole idea of poor Ari Thor posted way out in the very distant town of Siglufjörður, that captured my imagination. So I bought the book. In fact I bought the first three books. All on kindle and audio. I listened to the book for the first time on my way to Scotland for work, and by the time I returned home after a side trip to Bloody. Scotland, I had listened to all three books and had found myself a new go to author and publisher and opened my eyes to the wonderful world of translated fiction and Nordic Noir.
This is also the series that first bought my little old, totally inconsequential blog to the attention of Karen Sullivan, and it was Karen who sent me my first ever book post. So I am doubly grateful as Ragnar Jónasson not only introduced me to the wonderful world of Icelandic crime writing (and if you aren’t aware they are bloody good at it) but also to a wonderful reading experience and, in a round about fashion, this years challenge. Why? Because it is five years ago today that Snowblind was first published in the UK in paperback, the whole reason we are celebrating all things Orenda now. Happy anniversary to both Ragnar and Orenda Books. This series will always have a very special place in my heart. 💕
For those of you who have been living in perfect isolation for the past five years and don’t know anything about Ari Thor, and before you take a look back at the review that started it all (and it’s very raw as it was super early on in my blogging career), here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
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.
Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Apple Books
‘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.
About the Author
Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he works as a writer and a lawyer and teaches copyright law at Reykjavík University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, and he has, from the age of seventeen onwards, translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s novels. He is an international number one bestselling author.
The Darkness is the first novel in his Hidden Iceland series, to be followed by The Island and The Mist.
Books by Ragnar Jónasson