Quentin Bates- Thin Ice #IcelandicNoir #ThinIceBlogTour

28925475Pleased as punch to be hosting the next stop on the rolling blog tour for Quentin Bates, and reviewing his new book, Thin Ice, featuring the wonderfully likeable female detective, Gunna Gunnhildur. Replete with a tagline saying ‘snowed in with two psychopaths for the winter’ this certainly draws one’s attention from the outset. So what’s it all about?

When two small-time crooks, Magni and Ossi,  rob Reykjavik’s premier drugs dealer, hoping for a quick escape to the sun, their plans start to unravel after their getaway driver fails to show. Tensions mount between the pair and the two women, they have grabbed as hostages when they find themselves holed upcountry in an isolated hotel that has been mothballed for the season. Back in the capital, Gunna and her team find themselves at a dead end investigating what appear to be the unrelated disappearance of a mother, her daughter and their car during a day’s shopping, and the death of a thief in a house fire. They are faced with a set of riddles but as more people are quizzed it begins to emerge that all these unrelated incidents are in fact linked. At the same time, two increasingly desperate lowlifes have no choice but to make some big decisions on how to get rid of their accidental hostages…

I have read most of the series to date, and I love the way there is that instant feeling of comfort and familiarity with Bates’ style, and the way he marries the positively soap opera elements of Gunnhildur’s private life, with a solid Scandinavian police procedural. Having come to terms with the peccadillos of her son Gisli in the previous book she now has to grapple with the sudden reappearance of a ex-lover, and his impending demise. But in traditional Gunnhildur fashion she keeps calm, despite her burning animosity to her ex, pulls up her all weather bootstraps, and forges on. She is a great character, tenacious and dogged but clear thinking, and I like the shades of light and dark that Bates reveals within her character throughout the series.

Despite the tangled affairs of our redoubtable police officer, I actually rather enjoyed the greater emphasis that Bates places within the main narrative to the bumbling duo of Magni and Ossi. I think it’s fair to say that the plot rather resembles an inverted and twisted version of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, with skinny ringleader Ossi, being quickly revealed as a real liability to any hopes of escape from their predicament, and rufty tufty big guy Magni stepping up to be the brains rather than just the brawn. However, with the sensual temptation of Magni’s growing relationship with their younger captive Tinna Lind- the comely daughter and Mata Hari-esque femme fatale of the piece- Magni has to keep a balance with Ossi and Tinna which makes for an interesting development of his character. Although, as it transpires his brain does begin to take rather a backseat to other parts of his anatomy. Ahem. As the ineffective robbers lurch from one disaster to another, their story starts to take a whole other turn, and although I did have my suspicions to the denouement, it was an entertaining journey to the conclusion. Along from some nice violent interludes in the story as Magni and Ossi seek to evade both the police and the bad guy they have crossed, who is definitely out for vengeance, there is a great balance of sauciness, humour, darkness and high emotion. A good addition to a highly enjoyable series.

The blog tour continues tomorrow at Eurodrama  and check out the rest of the tour below…

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#Nightblind Blog Tour- Ragnar Jonasson- Review

img_0483With Ragnar Jonasson’s debut crime thriller Snowblind causing quite a stir on its release this year, we were all delighted to hear that it was merely the start of the Dark Iceland quintet and there were more to come…

So next up we have Nightblind and the action has moved on apace, with the events of this book taking place five years after Snowblind.*  Our previously charmingly naïve police officer Ari Thor Arason is still based in the small coastal community of Siglufjordur , but his boss Tomas has moved to Reykavik. Ari finds himself with a new boss (after a failed attempt to secure Tomas’ post), but his hopes for promotion could not be entirely scuppered as the book opens with the shooting of his superior officer, Herjolfur at an abandoned house. The community is appalled by this attack, and with winter drawing in, Ari and Tomas are reunited in their search for the perpetrator of this heinous deed…

TSQ3DKNAABSTlEm-GfmTIkRUhRMA5gEf5-qZZXGmZYQAs much as I enjoyed Snowblind, I can say confidently that Nightblind is actually even better. I don’t know the time period of Jonasson writing his quintet, but there is a real sense of a growth in maturity in his style and storytelling in this one. With an intuitive and assured translation by fellow crime writer Quentin Bates, this change in Jonasson’s writing is beautifully reflected in his central character, Ari Thor. The feeling of a touching innocence and naivety that defines Ari in the first book, has changed and sharpened into a more clear-eyed, and less trusting streak in his character. However, tinges of his former self surface intermittently, particularly in his almost paternalistic relationship with his old boss Tomas, who seeks to iron out the kinks in Ari’s sometimes naive investigative style, underpinning the solid and reliable nature of their detective partnership. There is a feeling that as much as Ari has grown in stature and his acceptance into the local community, he still has a way to go both in his personal and professional life, despite the steps he has already made. He certainly needs to sort out that girlfriend of his, with her wandering eye, tout de suite, and replicate the strength of his initial umbrage at being passed over for that promotion…

Once again, as the long claw of winter starts to exert its icy grip on Siglufjordur, with the darkening days, and the decreasing temperature, it does at time seem as if Ari and Tomas are experiencing their own battle with the diurnal clock to get this case solved and put to bed before the real onslaught of winter. With the small interludes that bring to the reader’s attention the encroaching darkness of a bitter winter, the tension is raised incrementally, perfectly in tune with the gathering pace of the investigation. As in Snowblind, with his insider’s knowledge and experience of this particular region, Jonasson flawlessly captures the claustrophobic intensity of this small coastal community and its inhabitants, and although there is once again a finite group of characters for the guilty party to conceal themselves amongst, I was hoodwinked a couple of times, with the investigation building to a highly satisfying conclusion. The more brutal nature of the crime that is the lynchpin of the story, and the shadowy dealings that this brings to light, in the course of the investigation reveals another development in Jonasson’s style overall. Consequently, as a reflection of the seasonal change, the shockingly violent opening event and the hardening of Ari’s character, there is a significantly darker feel to the book overall. As a staunch admirer of Arnaldur Indridason, I did feel the resonance of his style to a greater degree, and a more pronounced echo of the psychological, unlike the more locked room/ Christie inspired feel of Snowblind. I embraced the darkness. And I liked it. I’m pretty sure you will too…

*The next book in the series Blackout picks up the story again directly after the events of Snowblind, with the following two books set to complete the series of events linking Snowblind and Nightblind.

(With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC)

 

Blog Tour- Ragnar Jonasson- Snowblind (Dark Iceland 1)- Review and Extract

CEzOtOfXIAAi4RvExtremely 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…

9781910633038-275x423Having 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…

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EXTRACT:

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.

In Siglufjördur.’

She was silent and each passing second felt like an hour.

Siglufjördur?’ Her voice had lifted and the tone gave a clear

message.

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

a walk.’

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

slam shut…

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)