Day two of Ragnar week and I’m resharing my thoughts on Nightblind, book two in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark iceland series featuring Ari Thor. I was very lucky in coming to these books a bit late as it meant I could devour books one and two in quick succession and I loved the Christie-esque simplicity to these stories that were dark (both literally and figuratively) and chilling (see previous qualifier) but also thoroughly entertaining. These are not your fast paced action thrillers – they don’t need to be – but there are darned good. As we continue our Jolabokafloð countdown, here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
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.
Dark, chilling and complex, Nightblind is an extraordinary thriller from an undeniable new talent.
‘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.
Dark and occasionally disturbing, I loved it.
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