A new week and a change of author. Today marks the start of Ragnar week on the blog and is also day five of our Jolabokafloð countdown. Ragnar’s books were amongst the first Orenda titles I ever read, or rather listened to, devouring the first few on audiobook in quick succession. These are the books that put me in touch with Mrs Orenda herself, Karen Sullivan, and also led to my first ever book post as a blogger. I heard Ragnar speak about Ari Thor and the almost unpronounceable Siglufjörður at Crimefest and I was intrigued. I’d never even considered reading fiction in translation before. (Well aside from an ill advised attempt to read Les Miserables in my teens – least said, soonest mended).
Now as I’ve read and reviewed all of the books before, I’ll be resharing my thoughts this week, leading up to my review of the final ever Ari Thor novel, Winterkill, on Saturday. We’ll also be running our penultimate giveaway of the year this weekend so make sure to visit Jen Med’s Book Reviews on Twitter this Sunday as it’s a good one. 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.
‘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, fourth, fifth and now sixth) helpings, I’m hooked and I can see me going back again and again.
About the Author
Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavík, and currently works as a lawyer, while teacher copyright law at the Reykjavík 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 fourteen 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 Reykjavík, and is co-founder of the International crime-writing festival Iceland Noir. Ragnar’s debut thriller, Snowblind became an almost instant bestseller when it was published in June 2015n with Nightblind (winner of the Dead Good Reads Most Captivating Crime in Translation Award) and then Blackout, Rupture and Whiteout following soon after. To date, Ragnar Jónasson has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, which has been optioned for TV by On the Corner. He lives in Reykjavík with his wife and two daughters.
Books by Ragnar Jónasson