by Rana Asfour
‘The red stain was like a scream in the silence’ is how Icelandic writer Ragnar Jónasson kickstarts his highly gripping Nordic Noir novel, ‘Snowblind’. The book, translated by Quentin Bates, is set in the sleepy fishing town of Siglufjördur, the furthest point north of Iceland, close to the Arctic circle; a place where ‘nothing ever happens’ but where soon everything is about to change.
Ari Thór Arason is the town’s latest newcomer who has just accepted a 2-year contract with the town’s police force. Leaving his girlfriend Kristín behind in Reykjavic, 24-year old Ari is feeling quite homesick and challenged by the tight knit community where everyone shares a history. He is also struggling to overcome a severe claustrophobia triggered by Siglufjördur’s bitterly harsh winter.
No sooner than Ari settles into his new job than misfortune strikes. One of the town’s most prominent members is found dead in circumstances that Ari is unwilling to overrule as suspicious. However, a rookie to police work, and as yet to complete his police college finals, Ari is finding it hard to convince Siglufjördur’s longtime serving sergeant Tómas of his theories.
Straight on the tails of that, a young, unconscious, bleeding and half-naked woman is found in the snow. Courtesy of this latest drama, the tension among the town’s residents heightens considerably. As Siglufjördur’s only mountain pass is shutdown due to an avalanche brought on by the relentless snowstorm, the police scramble to find answers in the hopes of bringing a murderer to justice. Until then, friendships are put to the test, lies are exposed, and all is not as it seems.
Ragnar Jónasson writes with a chilling, poetic beauty - a must-read addition to the growing canon of Iceland Noir' - Peter James
As I read the book, many elements brought on undeniable reminders of an Agatha Christie novel to mind. One could even safely venture as to say that Jónasson has adopted Christie’s formulaic writing style to a tee. Most poignant is the author’s choice of a closed setting in which Siglufjördur’s brutal, claustrophobia-inducing weather is so extreme that it renders the town under complete lockdown, isolating it from the world. It is then that Ari, as Hercule Poirot would have done, begins to examine each of the characters up close and personal, dissecting the intricate details of their lives, observing their interactions, questioning their motives and uncovering long buried and forgotten secrets. Matters are further complicated for Ari when he becomes involved in a personal relationship with one of the possible suspects.
That said, 'Snowblind' is a brilliantly engaging read. Throughout the book there is that sense as if one were audience to a play brought to life with aid of a vivid cast flitting on and off the stage. Jónasson has bestowed his characters with unique, more importantly believable, personalities, and has made sure that their interactions throughout serve mainly to play on readers’ mind and psychology. The author engages his audience in an ongoing guessing game that extends right up to the very end as they try to sift out the ultimate culprit among the clues, twists and turns of this well-woven plot.
A truly remarkable mesmerising debut. Loved it!
'This has all the ingredients - a young policeman, a girlfriend left behind, murders both old and new for solving together with the intertwining of relationships with a small community as it goes through a snowbound dark winter. An absorbing read and one that I didn't put down' - Thinkingofyouandme.com
About the author:
Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavik in 1976 and currently works as a lawyer, while teaching copyright law at Reykjavik University Law School. In the past, he’s worked in TV and radio, including a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before embarking on a writing career, Ragnar translated 14 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 Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) in Reykjavik and is co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Iceland Noir. He has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, and is currently working on his sixth. He lives in Reykjavik with his wife and two daughters.
The second instalment of the series, ‘Nightblind’, will be published by Orenda Books in 2016. ‘Snowblind’ will be available in paperback, in the UK market, on June 15. It is currently available for download as an ebook.