A Year of Orenda – Blackout by Ragnar Jónasson trns Quentin Bates

Day three of Ragnar Week, day seven of the Jolabokafloð countdown. Don’t forget we have a big giveaway this weekend of some lovely Icelandic fiction just in time for the festive season, all over on Jen Med’s Book Reviews on Twitter. Until then I’ll taking a look back at book three in the Dark Iceland series, Black Out by Ragnar Jónasson. This book was set in the time of the big volcanic eruption of 2010 when Eyjafjallajokull decided to wake up, grounding flights and leading to general international chaos. I remember the time well and those memories really did add some context to this dark and twisted story. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Review Copy.

About the Book

As the light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by a recent volcanic eruption, Icelandic police officer Ari Thór Arason take on an increasingly perplexing case, when a young man is discovered brutally beaten to death on the shores of a tranquil fjord…

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…

Dark, terrifying and complex, Blackout is an exceptional, atmospheric thriller from one of Iceland’s finest crime writers.

My Thoughts

Blackout is the third instalment in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series. Set two years after the first story, Snowblind, this starts to bridge the gap in Ari Thór’s story between this and Nightblind. We catch up with Ari Thór when all of his personal life seems to be falling apart. Separated from Kristin after finally confessing, and ruining his friendship with Ugla at the same time, Ari Thór is at a personal low. Work is all he has. And what a case he is faced with.

This is a complex story, so many threads weaving together to make what is a real who-dunnit of a mystery. The story is darker than the previous two novels, the themes involved very topical and sensitive in nature. I won’t say too much as it may spoil the plot but there is an element of abuse running throughout, although more implied than gratuitously described, and also of one of the most common and enduring criminal plagues of modern times, human trafficking.

As always, Jónasson has created a claustrophobic, almost suffocating sense of atmosphere, not simply because of its timing among the volcanic eruptions of 2010. I remember that time well. It almost stopped my trip to Vietnam. Even on the tail end of it travel wise, I can only imagine what the impact was like in Iceland itself, the threat of a potential second, more devastating eruption from neighbouring Katla always in the mind of those who live there. Through ‘Blackout’ you do get a sense of this, the way in which the darkness envelopes everyone and everything in spite of what should have been a hot summer of long days and short nights, adding an extra level of menace to an already dark story. And creating the perfect, oppressive setting, while still giving the reader a sense of the beauty that makes up the Icelandic landscape, is what Jónasson does so well. This story is no different.

We learn a little more of Hlynur in this story too. He has a chequered past, one which he would rather forget but one which someone, somewhere, is determined that he cannot escape from. It is somewhat of a surprise, but then perhaps explains his motivations and actions in ‘Snow Blind’ where he always sought to expose the bad and protect those who he felt were innocent or abused in some way. It is hard to know exactly how I felt about Hlynur by the end of the novel, sympathetic or apathetic, but at least, I understood him.

The narrative moves from past to present, each aside informing the action more and building a gradual understanding and tension. When the true consequences of the murder become clear at the start of part two, the sense of urgency for the reader picks up, although the investigation remains frustratingly slow for the police who know nothing of what the reader is privy to. This is a brilliant twist, bringing the reader into an exclusive club, understanding what is at stake but unable to do anything other than will someone to stand up and tell the truth for once. And then Ari Thór’s actions towards the end, leaving the investigation when it is so close to resolution and running Kristin instead, stand to surprise you once again, and to make you wonder if this is another loose thread which will be tied off in the remaining novels.

I love the Dark Iceland series. Stunning setting and imagery, tight and twisting plotting, and absolutely engaging, if somewhat moody characters, in truly gripping stories told by someone who has a clear passion and love of his characters and his country. Yet another brilliant translation by Quentin Bates, this was the third book I have listened to on audiobook, it made long journeys to Scotland and back simply fly by. Absolutely recommended.

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

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