Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes. Ari Thór Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air. Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death. As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjörður, Ari Thór must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth, one that will leave no one unscathed…
Back by popular demand, Winterkill marks the culmination of the excellent Dark Iceland series. Ragnar Jonasson will not let us part ways with police inspector Ari Thór Arason without one last tricky case to test him with, as a blizzard threatens Siglufjörður, and Arason undergoes his own personal reckoning…
Jonasson has a wonderful knack of putting a dark, sordid crime at the heart of his books but never fails to leave you with a more overriding final impression of the essential goodness of his central character, police inspector Ari Thór Arason. Grappling with the repercussions of his relationship break up, the temptation of a revived dalliance, the seeming lack of respect afforded to him despite his promotion, and a case of suicide that leads to a nasty conclusion, Arason has more than enough on his plate. However, once again, through Jonasson’s meticulous characterisation of Arason, we traverse his own personal and professional highs and lows, wanting to give him a good shake at some points, or a reassuring hug at others. His parting from his former boss Tomas (now based in Reykjavik) provides moments of pure pathos, but somehow lessens the impetus of the book, as the way they worked together and bounced ideas arounds added a nice little frisson to their investigations. In matters of the heart, Arason remains largely floundering as usual, unsure as to whether his former relationship with the mother of his child has any chance of being resurrected, or whether to pursue an old flame, the flames of which had seemingly been doused near the beginning of the series. It is these ruminations on his future happiness that do rather slow the book down at times, but at least it sets our minds at rest that there is some hope of a new life and fresh beginnings for our earnest police officer.
Once again, the rugged and at time inhospitable landscape of Siglufjörður permeates the book, where even an upcoming religious festival cannot curtail the inclemency of the climate, and the particular difficulties it places on its inhabitants. Although Arason has one eye on a new posting in Reykjavik, he himself recognises the way that this remote little town has exerted its influence on him both in a real and metaphorical sense, ” By now, he felt a strong sense of connection to Siglufjörður. Something was keeping him here, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what. It was almost as if the place didn’t want him to leave… he had grown to love the isolation and tranquillity of the place.”
Although with this backdrop of Arason’s emotional back and forth, the central crime is a little linear in its progression, it is a sordid enough little mystery, for Jonasson to expose the darkness that lies behind the veneer of respectability. Having just discovered that Winterkill was written mainly because of popular demand for another book in the pretty much faultless Dark Iceland series, I did find it a little more slight compared to the others. However, it is still worth a look as the strength of his characterisation, and beautiful sense of place holds true throughout.
(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)
Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites: