Review: “Snowblind” (Dark Iceland #1) by Ragnar Jonasson

The red stain was like a scream into the silence.

Snowblind Prelude, page 1

Author: Ragnar Jónasson
Publication Date: April 20th 2015
Publisher: Orenda Books
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Format: Hardcover
Find it on: Amazon, Goodreads

Synopsis

Siglufjörður: 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 ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.

From Goodreads

Review

Ragnar’s debut novel, Snowblind, follows newbie policeman Ari Thór, a theology student who abruptly changed course to pursue his passion for the law. Young Ari is full of vigor and optimism. As the book opens he’s spending an enjoyable night with his serious girlfriend, Kristín, when he gets a call for a job in a small northern town. Although it’s remote and uneventful, Ari makes the sporadic decision to seize this time-sensitive opportunity without consulting her. Their relationship becomes strained as he moves north for work, still holding out hope that they’ll be able to get through it and come together at the end. Readers glimpse both perspectives of their heartache and mismatched expectations as the larger story progresses. In Siglufjörður where the bulk of the book takes place, passages on Ari’s acclimation as a newcomer to the town are interspersed with what appear to be short interludes in italic of the killer in action.

Approximately the first 70 pages or so of this 300 page book were spent laying the groundwork. Ragnar sets an icy, isolated mood which made the book intensely immersive for readers. As an aside, please keep in mind that this might feel too potent as a winter pandemic read if you’re sensitive to the matter. Finally about a quarter of the way in we are confronted with a mysterious phone call and a tragic accident, but the web of motives surrounding the affair are complex. Ari struggles to balance being an authority figure with his ‘outsider’ status in this small town where everyone is so tight knit. Impossible secrets plague the incident’s circumstances. Ari must navigate when to push potential suspects and where to let lie.

The cliché of an outsider coming in and helping solve a small town mystery felt a bit obvious but still well executed. Overall I thought this was a fantastic read as I’ve come to expect from Ragnar, having already read his later series starring Inspector Hulda. I was impressed and pleased his debut was also of such high caliber. Ari is an imperfect but relatable character, and although I was able to puzzle out one of the grand reveals before its time the other still hit me upside the head in the best way. Snowblind is a high quality, moody Nordic Noir perfect with a hot drink to ward off the chill.

TW: abuse, assault, infidelity

Background of cover photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash

As a side note, typing these Icelandic names was a bit tricky with all the accents not easily accessible on an English keyboard. For anyone interested I found installing the Icelandic language pack on Windows then learning a bit about the layout to be most helpful (as opposed to copying individual letters). Here’s a quick wiki page on the layouts.

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