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Thriller set in Siglufjörður, Iceland (…where the winter is relentless…)

18th July 2015

Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Blake), thriller set in Siglufjörður, Iceland.

IMG_1392Snowblind is a quite excellent thriller. Ragnar Jónasson describes beautifully the bleakness, cold, and snow of Siglufjörður – Iceland’s northernmost city on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Much colder than Reykjavik in winter and, perhaps surprisingly, considerably warmer in summer… A place that is cut off regularly from the rest of Iceland in winter, where everyone knows everyone and where there are few secrets. More than a tad claustrophobic – as policeman Ari Thór Arason discovers when he is posted to the town, leaving his girlfriend behind in the capital. He is the ‘outsider’.

But he is soon involved in solving a mystery, or two. The director of the local dramatic society is found dead at the base of a staircase – did he slip, or was he pushed. And a young lady is found (dying, but not quite dead) in a field of snow with a knife close by. Are the two events connected and, if so, how? Air Thór sets out to find out. He encounters a love interest and the side plot of the book is how he juggles his feelings for his girlfriend Kristίn back in Reykjavik with those for his new love Ugla in Siglufjörður. Not an easy one for him to resolve.

The story progresses apace – a real page turner – with an unpredictable, but quite believable, denouement. It is exciting and extremely well written (and well translated). It takes the reader into the heart of winter and the hearts and minds of the local inhabitants. All, of course, is not as it seems.

Snowblind is the first book of five (originally published in Iceland in 2010) in Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series. The second, Nightblind, will be published in English in 2016 – and I much look forward to reading it. Jónasson’s father grew up in Siglufjörður (his grandparents lived there) and Ragnar visited frequently in his youth. It is clear that he has a great deal of affection for the place – and believes it to be the ideal location for a crime series. It has, of course, changed over the years. Originally the heart of the Icelandic herring fishing industry, and now a fairly sleepy and isolated community.

As I said at the beginning, Snowblind is a quite excellent thriller. But I do struggle a little with putting in (as the publicists do…) into the general classification of Nordic Noir or the sub-classification of Icelandic Noir. It looks, to me, a bit like jumping on a bandwagon. Yes, it is exciting and tense – but it does not have the explicit brutality and body count of either a Stieg Larsson, a Hakan Nesser, or a Jo Nesbø. It is of a slightly lighter hue – but absolutely none the worse for that. A book I would most certainly recommend.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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