Written by Ragnar Jonasson, translated by Quentin Bates — Icelandic writer Ragnar Jonasson and his young detective Ari Thor had established a considerable fan base, even before Iceland’s football team amazed us with their storming performance. This is the third book published by Orenda in the Dark Iceland series – although, since the books have been translated out of order, it’s actually the second story in the series.
Set about two years later than Snowblind and two or three years before the events in Nightblind, this novel takes place during the short Icelandic summer. The fine, long days are disrupted by volcanic eruptions. Ash is covering most of the country’s skies, although Siglufjörđur seems to have escaped relatively unscathed… so far. Ari Thor Arason has settled into his life as a policeman in the remote little town, but is struggling to convince his ex-girlfriend Kristin to come back to him after the incidents in the first book. Kristin herself is working at a hospital in the nearby town of Akureyri, but refuses to see him or answer his phone calls.
An American tourist gets lost and finds a man brutally beaten to death. The victim turns out to be Elias, a contractor working on a new tunnel that will end Siglufjörđur’s main problem – there’s only one road in and out. He also had a side-job building a house for a disgraced doctor, struck off the register for operating while drunk. Could Elias have been killed by mistake by a relative of one of the doctor’s dead patients? There are many other avenues to explore as well. Elias was not well liked and may have been involved in some shady dealings, laundering money via a charity that he was suddenly keen on helping out.
Ari Thor isn’t at the forefront of the novel, and even the rest of his team are somewhat subdued throughout the investigation. The boss, Tomas, is still there to guide his young protégé, but he is thinking of moving on and rejoining his wife in Reykjavik. The other colleauge, Hlynur, is falling apart, tormented by anonymous messages which have awakened painful memories from his schooldays. They are all so preoccuppied with their own personal problems that they are sometimes in danger of missing vital clues or being subjective in their interpretation of events. So it’s up to an ambitious young TV news reporter called Isrun to uncover the truth, and she is prepared to use any subterfuge to get her story.
This is a solid police procedural with the added fun of an accidental detective getting involved. You are invited to follow step-by-step as both the police and the reporter question associates and examine the evidence, each focusing on different angles and not quite able to match their findings.
The style is even more assured and polished than in the debut Snowblind. The author manages to steer us through quite a large cast of characters (and possible suspects) with a steady hand and minimal confusion. There are a few weaknesses though. While the rivalry and backstabbing at the TV station contribute to building Isrun’s character and motivation, the allusions to her mysterious past trauma felt predictable and an unnecessary inclusion. Meanwhile, if you were expecting to see more of Ari Thor in police action, instead of just vacillating over how best to approach his girlfriend, you may be disappointed.
Nevertheless, this remains a very readable crime series, full of atmosphere, and a lingering sense of sadness. The mystery is solved, but lives have been irrevocably changed, in some cases damaged. The addition of a feisty female reporter – who, despite all her own problems, is more of a go-getter than the gentler, more thoughtful Ari Thor – makes for an interesting contrast and I hope we will get to see more of her in the forthcoming books.
For more Icelandic crime fiction check out the work of Arnaldur Indridason.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars