Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson

nightblindI do enjoy a good murder mystery and Ragnar Jónasson once again delivers exactly that and more. Nightblind sees the return of Ari Thór Arason five years after the events of Snowblind. His boss Tomas has been promoted to a new role in Reykjavík but, despite being Siglufjörður’s only remaining policeman, Ari Thór was overlooked for his own step up as an outsider arrived to lead the local department. Maybe this disappointment is why he doesn’t know his new boss as well as he perhaps should and has made little effort to ease the new man’s move to a new and isolated location.

In his personal life Ari Thór has been reunited with his girlfriend Kristen. They now have a child and are settled in this close community in the north of Iceland, but tensions remain as the long dark winter looms and when the new inspector is shot dead whilst investigating drug dealing on the fringes of the town, Ari Thór is once again thrown into an all consuming investigation that leaves him little time to think about the needs of his family.

The classic whodunit remains at the heart of the book and it is a clever and absorbing one as we are introduced to more of the characters who make up Siglufjörður on the edge of the water and surrounded by mountains. The reader quickly slips back in to the day to day life of Ari Thór, an appealing central character as well as a clever and sharp detective who pieces together the threads expertly in what is a complex mystery.

Alongside the investigation is a strong narrative of domestic violence and the impact it has on victims, perpetrators and associated family members. According to Refuge 1 in 4 women in the United Kingdom will suffer domestic violence in their lifetime and 8% will do so in any given year, whilst globally 1 in 3 women will experience violence at the hands of a male partner. It is a serious, highly relevant subject and it is good to see the tradition of Scandinavian Noir raising difficult issues being continued here.

Despite this strong and powerful thread, which also touches upon the way that the state cares for people with mental health issues, this is a very entertaining read and an excellent addition to the Dark Iceland series, which is due to continue with two more books that will fill in the five years between Snowblind and Nightblind. If you enjoy crime novels this is definitely a series you will want to add to your bookshelf.

In the author’s note at the end of the book Jónasson takes the time to thank the people of Siglufjörður for the loan of their town and though it seems harsh to wish further, even fictional, deaths upon them his books have certainly helped build a personal rapport with their home and I have to admit a desire to walk those streets and share in the non-violent aspects of Ari Thór’s story. To help with that we are also presented with a wonderful postscript beautifully written by the author’s late grandfather about the period of darkness that is the setting for Nightblind. It’s a lovely touch and only adds to the readers absorption into the setting.

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Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson

Snow Blind

“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.

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. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights.”

This first English translation from Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series delivers an engrossing and rewarding whodunnit, an appealing lead character and the promise of an excellent new series of crime novels, (that already features six novels in its native language), with the second instalment coming via Orenda Books next year.

Jonasson has previously translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic and there is a feel of her influence at work in Snow Blind, both with the intricate inter-twining of the lives of the characters and in the setting of an isolated village accessed by a single tunnel; thus separating events from the outside world.

Ari Thor feels this isolation all the more for being a newcomer to a tight knit community far from his own home and girlfriend. As he struggles to be accepted by his new neighbours he must also come to terms with the bleak and oppressive weather and geography and with the strains on his relationship with the woman he has left behind.

At the same time the village in which “nothing ever happens” and no one locks their doors is in for a shock. A local celebrity author is about to take a fatal tumble and a woman is found semi-naked, unconscious and bleeding in her garden. Ari Thor must dig into the lives of already sceptical residents to uncover the truth and piece together crimes old and new.

Although the intricate plotting is reminiscent of the great Christie the setting is very much more modern and darker. There is an increasing tension and threat, that mirrors the developing snow storm and creates a sense of isolation and confinement, ensuring that the story develops strongly once the characters and scene are laid out. It is clear that nothing and no one is quite what it seems and with each twist in the plot another secret is uncovered.

Translated into English by Quentin Bates, Snow Blind will appeal to all crime fans. It is cleverly constructed, knitting together its various threads and a substantial cast of well-drawn characters to its satisfying conclusion. We have also seen enough of Ari Thor to want to go deeper and find out what lies in the future for this intelligent and engaging detective.

Snow Blind is published in paperback on 15 June 2015 and in the meantime you can read more about the novel and the author here.

You can also find out more about the publisher Orenda Books at their website and I sincerely recommend that you do with every book in their short history a fantastic read.