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.
Ok, I have a test for you, just to see if you’re following. Tell me where you read this before…
I don’t read many books that would be classified as “crime”. But when I choose to read one, I always choose carefully.
Yes, that was me on Sunday. And I don’t read that much crime – honestly, I don’t. Even the scandi-crime thing passed me by – I had a brief encounter with Lisbeth Salander, but one book was enough thank you. Never read Jo Nesbo, Camilla Läckberg, Henning Mankell… ok, I know the names, could even name some titles, but that’s my lot. And when people say things like “this book is in the same league as Arnuldur and Yrsa”, I’m happy to nod sagely, but I really don’t know what they’re talking about.
But Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates, published by Orenda on 15th January) was another carefully chosen read. Snowblind passed me by, but I heard all the buzz. And I rather love Orenda Books – well, the truth is that I actually love Karen Sullivan and her passion for her authors and their books. This book was several miles outside my usual comfort zone, but I trust her – and, would you believe it, I really enjoyed it?
The publicity says “dark, chilling and complex”, and I can’t argue with that. When I was a teenager, I obsessively read everything Agatha Christie ever wrote (I have had my crime moments…), and reading this book took me right back. It’s almost old fashioned in style, yet at the same time really different – and that difference is brought about by the vividly described setting. St Mary Mead becomes Siglufjördur, a unique and remote community, left behind when the herring trade ended, connected to the rest of the island by a tunnel, and a quite fascinating community. In fact, the whole Icelandic setting is beautifully and poetically described, with its weather that penetrates your bones. The characters are wonderfully drawn – their names may be difficult to write and unpronounceable, but they all live and breathe in a few deft strokes, with their various deeply hidden secrets. I liked Ari Thór very much – the insights into his home life added tremendously to the story, and I particularly liked his musings around “it could have been me” and who the next inspector might be. Gunnar and Elin quite fascinated me too.
At just over 200 pages, this book packs a lot in. The plotting is really excellent, and the pacing perfect – and I really liked the diary entries by the person in the psychiatric ward, their identity as yet uncovered. And as a whodunnit – and a whydunnit – it was a brilliantly constructed read. I liked it – a lot. I even also enjoyed immensely the evocative passage that the author’s grandfather wrote about the setting, included in a note at the end. Very much recommended, even if you really don’t really read crime either…
My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my advance reading copy, and for including me in the tour. Do check out some of the other stops…
Ragnar Jónasson is author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series. His debut Snowblind went to number one in the kindle charts in four countries, shortly after publication, and continues to attract a great deal of attention.
Ragnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he works as a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV‐news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’Association (CWA) and recently set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA, in Reykjavik. He is also the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival Iceland Noir. From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic.
He has appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik with his wife and young daughters. Blackout will be published by Orenda Books in 2016.