The Blurb On The Back:
Siglufjörour: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.
Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind.
When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one and secrets and lies are a way of life.
An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust even deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s spring 2008. With the financial crisis gripping Iceland, philosophy and theology college drop-out 25-year-old Ari Thór is preparing to finish his police exams and his girlfriend Kristín (who is studying to be a doctor) has just moved into his Reykjavik flat. But jobs in the police force are hard to come by and when the only offer her gets is from Tómas, the police sergeant at Siglufjörour (a remote fishing town in the north of Iceland), Ari Thór feels that he has no choice but to accept it.
Doing so, however, puts an immediate strain on his relationship with Kristín who opts to stay in Reykjavik and Ari Thór has barely arrived in Siglufjörour when he begins to wonder if he’s made the right decision. For starters, there’s very little to do in a town where most people leave their doors unlocked at night plus it’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else’s business and as an “outsider” he finds himself the subject of speculation and gossip. Worse though is the fact that Siglufjörour goes dark for 24 hours a day during the winter months and its remote location – accessible only through a mountain tunnel – means that it is frequently cut off by avalanches and heavy snow and Ari Thór finds that remoteness very claustrophobic.
Things perk up though when the celebrated author Hrólfur Kristjánsson is found dead at the bottom of the stairs at the local theatre. An elderly man with a penchant for drinking to excess, Tómas is certain that the death is just a tragic accident but Ari Thór isn’t so sure. Hrólfur had a reputation for being spiky and argumentative and he wielded disproportionate power over the amateur dramatics troop, frequently clashing with retired diplomat Úlfur and retired schoolteacher turned playwright, Pálmi. And when later a young woman is found half-naked and bleeding in the snow, he is convinced that there’s a killer on the loose – and one who will stop at nothing to get what they want …
Ragnar Jónasson‘s debut Nordic Noir crime thriller (translated into English by Quentin Bates and the first in a series) makes full use of its atmospheric location to create a sense of choking claustrophobia but the plot meanders and I found myself bored by the emotionally immature Ari Thór and his girlfriend woes, especially as Ari Thór‘s investigation is driven more by happenstance by evidence, such that I am unlikely to check out the sequel.
The main reason to read this book is the location. Jónasson does a great job of portraying small town Iceland where everyone knows everyone else’s history and business and as the snow begins to fall and the darkness takes over, he wrings a lot of tension and atmosphere out of the place through showing Ari Thór‘s reaction as it is cut off from the outside world. I especially enjoyed the contrast in as Ari Thór‘s reaction to the place as compared to Tómas and how their respective roles as newcomer and established member of the community skewer their view of the place.
However, I found Ari Thór as a character to be a little limp and wishy-washy. Jónasson establishes him as a bit of a ditherer from the start, unable to finish either of the two degrees he started and at the same time impulsive enough to accept a job without consulting his girlfriend (or even warning her that he’s applied for it). Given the way they each react to his transfer, I really didn’t care about the strain that the move puts on their relationship because they’re both equally pathetic and childish and when Ugla (a young local woman who Hrólfur took a shine to) emerged on the scene, it was easy to guess what would happen next. However, I was more bothered by the fact that for an investigator, Ari Thór is surprisingly naive when it comes to actually investigating and the breaks he makes in the case come more from happenstance than his own efforts, which I found disappointing.
The plot itself meanders, not helped by flashbacks from some unknown earlier crime, which I found kept throwing me out of the main action and while it does tie in with the denouement, I found it all a bit ho hum. Jónasson appears to be interested in darkness hiding in plain sight but that only works when the antagonist isn’t drawn in such two-dimensional terms and the reader is allowed to see more of their home life on the page.
I read the ebook version of this novel and it was fine with no formatting or typographical issues.
Ultimately, this was an okay read in that I did keep turning the pages, but I didn’t care enough about Ari Thór to want to see what happens to him next and as such, am probably not going to check out the sequel.