Extremely keen to add my voice to the exceptionally positive response to this Scandinavian crime debut from Ragnar Jonasson. Snowblind is the first of his Dark Iceland quintet, with a pitch perfect translation by Jonasson’s fellow Scandibrit crime author, Quentin Bates, for the UK market. Snowblind has given rise to one of the biggest buzzes in the crime fiction world, and refreshingly usurps the cast iron grip of the present obsession with domestic noir. Introducing Ari Thor, a young police officer from Reykjavik, who takes up a posting in the small northern community of Siglufjordur, leaving behind not only the city, but his girlfriend too, and immersing him in a complex and perplexing case, in a claustrophobic and chilling setting…
Having recently had the delight of seeing Jonasson at CrimeFest, an international crime convention in Bristol UK, it was very interesting to hear that outside of his career as a lawyer, he has previously translated a clutch of Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. The shadow of Christie looms large, and it’s no exaggeration to say that her reputation for sublime plotting is flawlessly mirrored by Jonasson in his exceptionally well-executed novel. By using the claustrophobic confines of this small community in Siglufjordur, and its relative inaccessibility due to location and inclement weather, Jonasson cleverly manipulates the compressed cast of characters. The book takes on the real feel of a locked room mystery, with a finite group of possible perpetrators of the violent crimes, in this case a severe physical assault and a suspicious death, and giving the reader a puzzling conundrum as we attempt to identify the guilty party or parties ourselves. Speaking as a crime reader, this is always one of the essential thrills of this nature of crime book, playing detective and navigating the red herrings along the way. Jonasson provides this in spades, and due to a series of tricks in the narrative, all is not as it appears, confusing not only Ari Thor, but also the humble reader along the way. A whodunnit that really hits the spot, whilst also cleverly concealing the how and the why…
With the author being so familiar with the isolated setting of this book (Jonasson’s relatives hailed from the town) the overarching cold and sinister darkened atmosphere in the grip of a harsh winter is powerfully wrought throughout. Indeed, I felt that I should have been reading this neatly tucked up in a blanket in front of a roaring fire, such is the pervading nature of cold and bleakness within its pages. Equally, the situation and closed feel to the community seen through Thor’s eyes is tangible throughout, as he encounters for the first time some of the more eccentric inhabitants, the trust of being able to leave your door unlocked, and the more laidback style of policing by his fellow officers. I particularly enjoyed the way they were propelled into a situation they had rarely encountered as if they were saying- “A murder in Siglufjordur? Impossible!” and being reluctantly spurred on by our rookie police officer’s enthusiastic theories, that did at times fall on fallow ground.
The characterisation is well-realised, with an intriguing blend of the eccentric, the straight-laced and the emotionally damaged, working beautifully in tandem as the plot progresses. With the wide-eyed, and sometimes baffled incomer, Ari Thor, steadily encountering and interacting with them, again the Christie connection comes into play, as their dark secrets and murderous intentions come to light. This is truly a community where not everyone is as they at first appear, including Thor himself, heightening the sense of intrigue, and in some ways displaying all the well loved familiarity of a good old murder mystery, underscored with all the dark psychology of contemporary crime fiction.
So, all in all, as you will probably gather, I rather enjoyed this debut with its intriguing cast, terrific use of location, confident plotting and lively translation, but don’t just take my word for it. A certain Mr Child was equally keen to get his hands on this one…
‘I know, it’s unbelievable. I hadn’t expected anything so soon.
Loads of us are graduating in December and there aren’t many jobs
to be had.’
‘So where is this job? Here in town? A relief post?’
‘No, it’s a two-year contract … at least.’
‘In town?’ Kristín repeated, and he could see for her expression
that she suspected it might not be.
‘Well, actually, no.’ He hesitated before continuing. ‘It’s up north.
She was silent and each passing second felt like an hour.
‘Siglufjördur?’ Her voice had lifted and the tone gave a clear
‘Yes, it’s a great opportunity,’ he said mildly, almost pleadingly,
hoping that she would see his side, that it was important to him.
‘And you said yes? Without even thinking to ask me?’ Her eyes
narrowed. Her voice was bitter, verging on anger.
’Well …’ He hesitated. ‘Sometimes you just have to grab an
opportunity. If I hadn’t made a decision on the spot, then they
would have taken someone else.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘They
picked me,’ he added, almost apologetically.
Ari Thór had given up on philosophy and then he had given up
on theology. He had lost his parents far too young and had been
alone in a hard world since childhood. Then Kristín had picked him.
That had given him just the same feeling he was experiencing now.
They picked me.
This would be his first real job, and one that would carry responsibility.
He had made an effort to do well at the police college. So
why couldn’t Kristín just be happy for him?
‘You don’t decide to move to Siglufjördur just like that, without
talking it over with me, dammit. Tell them you need to think it over,’
she said, her voice cold.
‘Please, I don’t want to risk this. They want me there in the middle
of November, I’ll take the last couple of exams there, and be back for
a break at Christmas. Why don’t you see if you can come as well?’
‘I have to work here as well as studying; you know that perfectly
well, Ari Thór. Sometimes I just don’t understand you.’ She stood
up. ‘This is bloody ridiculous. I thought we were partners, doing
all this together.’ She turned aside to hide her tears. ‘I’m going for
She left with rapid steps, out of the bedroom and into the passage.
Ari Thór remained rooted to the spot, dumbstruck that he had
completely lost control of the situation.
He was about to call out to her when he heard the front door
Author of the bestselling Dark Iceland crime series, Ragnar Jonasson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1976 and 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. Before becoming a writer, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had short stories published in international literary magazines. 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 (www.icelandnoir.com), which was selected by the Guardian as one of the ‘best crime-writing festivals around the world’. Ragnar has appeared on panels at festivals worldwide, and he lives in Reykjavik with his wife and daughter. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @ragnarjo
(With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC and Liz Loves Books)