Review: The Hidden Iceland Series by Ragnar Jonasson

Happy Saturday, all! Today we’re bundling up and leaning in to the cold weather feels discussing the Hidden Iceland series by Ragnar Jónasson. The more recent in his collection of published works, these follow Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police as she unravels thrilling local crimes and deals with her own dark history, revealed over the course of the series.

Chilling Nordic noir with building suspense and big reveals, Ragnar’s work has been compared to an Icelandic Agatha Christie. I haven’t gotten around to reading her works yet, but this connection isn’t surprising given his depth of experience with her books. According to a piece he did for The Guardian in 2017, he’s translated 14 of her books to Icelandic (perhaps more by now). If anyone has read both Ragnar and Agatha, let me know if you agree or disagree with this comparison!

View the Series on Goodreads

The Darkness (Hidden Iceland #1)

Synopsis

Spanning the icy streets of Reykjavik, the Icelandic highlands and cold, isolated fjords, The Darkness is an atmospheric thriller from Ragnar Jonasson, one of the most exciting names in Nordic Noir.

The body of a young Russian woman washes up on an Icelandic shore. After a cursory investigation, the death is declared a suicide and the case is quietly closed.

Over a year later Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police is forced into early retirement at 64. She dreads the loneliness, and the memories of her dark past that threaten to come back to haunt her. But before she leaves she is given two weeks to solve a single cold case of her choice. She knows which one: the Russian woman whose hope for asylum ended on the dark, cold shore of an unfamiliar country. Soon Hulda discovers that another young woman vanished at the same time, and that no one is telling her the whole story. Even her colleagues in the police seem determined to put the brakes on her investigation. Meanwhile the clock is ticking.

Hulda will find the killer, even if it means putting her own life in danger.

From Goodreads

Thoughts

Although this is the first of the series, Hulda is actually the oldest we see of her in this book. It made the series progression a bit surprising, especially if (like me) you happened to have started with book three, jumped to one, and finished completely out of order with two 😅. Anyways if you were to go in order by Hulda’s age timeline-wise you’d read book two, then three, then one. So really this series opener is meant to really grip our interest not only with the crime and it’s twist, but with Hulda’s story as well.

As we’re first introduced to her, Hulda is heading into a forced retirement. She’s to be replaced with a young up-and-comer in the police force earlier than expected which is startling and upsetting to say the least. Hulda picks up a cold case in order to preoccupy herself and keep dark thoughts by the wayside, but she’s met with a tangled web of deception coursing through unexpected veins. Uncovering the truth of a young woman’s disturbing death all hinges on whether Hulda can dig through the murky timeline before her time runs out. It’s easy to root for Hulda in this righteous endeavor. As the story progresses, however, Ragnar sows seeds of doubt in regards to her past. We’re left wondering what happened that’s left her so haunted, and what role did she play? Even still, when Hulda starts to gradually embrace the brighter side of retirement and feed a budding relationship as a reader you can’t help but feel her joy. Hulda is a complex heroine well worth the reader’s attention.

This was a fantastic, suspenseful read with some great twists. The ending rips your heart out and stomps on it, but in that perfect terrible way where you know the author did their job right. All of the reveals were well executed and I didn’t see them coming in the slightest. A stunning opening to the series!

The Island (Hidden Iceland #2)

Synopsis

Elliðaey is an isolated island off the coast of Iceland. It is has a beautiful, unforgiving terrain and is an easy place to vanish.

The Island is the second thrilling book in Ragnar Jonasson’s Hidden Iceland trilogy. This time Hulda is at the peak of her career and is sent to investigate what happened on Elliðaey after a group of friends visited but one failed to return.

Could this have links to the disappearance of a couple ten years previously out on the Westfjords? Is there a killer stalking these barren outposts?

Written with Ragnar’s haunting and suspenseful prose The Island follows Hulda’s journey to uncover the island’s secrets and find the truth hidden in its darkest shadows.

From Goodreads

Thoughts

I’ll be honest – of the three I liked this one the least. But I guess that’s probably what you’d prefer of a three book series. If the first was bad you wouldn’t continue, and if the last was bad you’d be extremely disappointed. And I should clarify this book wasn’t _bad_. I’d still rank it on a higher tier of mystery reads. It just wasn’t quite as good as the others in my opinion, and that might be down to my own preferences. There were quite a few more characters in this book comparatively, which is something I find difficult to keep track of sometimes and typically enjoy less. Despite that this was still an enjoyable continuation of the series.

From the opening to this book I questioned whether this was started to head down the supernatural route. Bizarre I know, but hear me out. We start with a child enjoying a fun evening with her sweet babysitter while her parents are out for the night. When the parents return the frightened child says there was another person there that night besides the two of them. Could it have been another person? A ghost? We’re left wondering until much later in the book.

In the mean time most of the story ends up following a friend group who joins up for a reunion on a remote island to commemorate the anniversary of their fifth friend’s passing ten years prior. But only three remain at the conclusion of their weekend away. Inspector Hulda is left to uncover what happened their last night, and whether there’s any tie to the events years ago. Hulda herself is in top form, events of her past in the first book apparently not yet at play.

This was an exciting read overall aside from the previously mentioned personal nit picks, and fills in nicely as a backstory leading up to book three.

The Mist (Hidden Iceland #3)

Synopsis

1987. An isolated farm house in the east of Iceland.

The snowstorm should have shut everybody out. But it didn’t.

The couple should never have let him in. But they did.

An unexpected guest, a liar, a killer. Not all will survive the night. And Detective Hulda will be haunted forever.

From Goodreads

Thoughts

I love how the summaries for these get more sparse as the series goes on 😂.

Alright as mentioned, I happened to have read this book first out of order since I was told it reads alright as a standalone (which it did more or less). A fair warning though this did spoil the previous two books in terms of Hulda’s past. I do wish someone had mentioned that before suggesting it’d be alright to read this first. If you read them in order as they’re meant to be, though, this third book has the big plot twist in Hulda’s life you’ve been teased on through the series.

Compared to the other two, I actually enjoyed the setting and crime plot of this one quite a bit more. We’re in a remote farmhouse buried in snow in the days leading up to Christmas. For myself and probably most readers this is a very calm and cozy, probably due to the warming idea of holiday time. Of course, not all is warm and happy here. I also loved the plot twist for this one, but I can’t really say why without spoiling it so that will have to remain vague and mysterious unfortunately. For more thoughts on this book in particular (without spoilers) I’ve already done a separate review of this one here, so feel free to check that out.


Final Thoughts

As I’ve started to get more and more into Nordic Noir I’ve found this particular series one of the most enjoyable I’ve tried. I’d highly recommend picking them up if you like a good mystery read. Others on my list to read include Yrsa Sigurðardóttir‘s Last Rituals and Ruth Ware‘s One by One (though I dont believe this one is a Nordic). What other books have made it to your top mysteries list?

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