Iceland has come into its own in the past few years as the setting of excellent detective novels. Arnaldur Indridason, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and Quentin Bates are among the half dozen Icelandic mystery writers who have introduced their detectives over the past decade and a half. Now Ragnar Jónasson’s novel, Snowblind, has placed him in this respected company.
Ari Thór Arason is in Reykjavik, trying to find a path to a meaningful life. He’s been a theology student, then a philosophy student, and now he’s finishing up studies at the country’s police academy. He’s not certain where, or even if, he’ll be offered a job, given that there are more police officers and would-be officers than there are openings in Iceland. But to his surprise, he receives a call offering him a two-year contract in Siglufjördur, a small town so far north that it’s practically touching the Arctic Circle.
Taken a bit by surprise, Ari Thór immediately accepts, then tells his live-in girlfriend the news. To say Kristín is upset is to put it mildly, partly because it will mean a separation for the next two years while she continues her medical studies in the capital and partly because she hadn’t known that he had applied for this job. So Ari Thór leaves for his posting with hurt feelings on both sides, his because Kristín isn’t excited and happy for him, hers because Ari Thór hadn’t thought to consult her before applying for the job or accepting it.
Siglufjördur’s most famous citizen is Hrólfur Kristjánsson, one of the country’s most famous writers. His novel, North of the Hills, was written during World War II and is still required reading throughout Iceland. Hrólfur has been renting his basement apartment to a series of young people over the past several years, and he has taken a particular shine to Ugla, a young woman new to town.
Hrólfur suggests that Ugla join the Dramatic Society in town, of which he is chairman. She is content with her life and her involvement in the Society’s play, in which she has the female lead. But all that comes to an end just a few days before the production’s opening when the body of Hrólfur Kristjánsson is found at the foot of the auditorium’s stairs.
Snowblind is a wonderful novel. The sense of place is perfect, allowing the reader to share Ari Thór’s feeling of claustrophobia in this remote, snowbound village, far from the woman he loves. He also has the feeling of being an outsider, one who will never be connected to the inhabitants of this town as most of them come from families who have lived here for generations. After all, why would any young, ambitious person come to Siglufjördur anyway? Well, we know why Ari Thór did, but what brought Ugla there? And how are his feelings for Kristín holding up, given the distance between them and his proximity to Ugla?
Ragnar Jónasson is an attorney and writer, an Icelander by birth. Interestingly, he has translated fourteen Agatha Christie books into Icelandic, although he did not translate Snowblind into English. Snowblind was written in 2010 and is followed by several other novels in the Dark Iceland Series that feature Ari Thór. These other mysteries are now absolutely on my must-read list.
You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson at this web site.
Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.