Book Review: Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson (Translated by Quentin Bates)

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The first volume in Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series makes its long awaited English language print début.

In this intricately plotted crime novel a small community is placed under suspicion when the town’s most famous resident is murdered.

Overshadowed for far too long by its higher profile Scandinavian neighbours, Icelandic crime fiction is finally getting the recognition it deserves. With its long dark winter nights, volcanic landscape, and palpable existential ennui brought about by the financial crisis Iceland is proving to be fertile ground for a new generation of writers that are using their finely tuned creative antenna to tap into the nation’s Zeitgeist and use the genre to critique the chain of events leading up to and following the tumultuous economic meltdown.

With its third title new publisher Orenda Books is alerting English speaking readers to a new and distinct voice who has already earned a reputation as one of Iceland’s foremost crime writers and will shortly be known as one of Nordic Noir’s big hitters.

Co-founder of the crime fiction festival Iceland Noir, Ragnor Jonasson has translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. His short story Death of a Sunflower was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. A second story was published in the Crime Writers’ Association 2014 anthology Guilty Parties. With his full length début Ragnar has delivered delivered an intelligent whodunnit that updates, and expands the locked room mystery format.

The Dark Iceland series is set in Siglufjörður. A small fishing town in the north of Iceland situated just below the Arctic circle, its economy was once dependent on the herring industry. After years of overfishing the town went into long term decline when the stock failed to appear in 1969. Decades after the boom and bust it’s become a tight-knight community. A place where everybody knows each other and it’s safe to leave doors unlocked. The tranquility of this deceptively perfect town is forevermore shattered when a local celebrity is found dead at the local theatre.

A second crime is recounted through the use of flashback, ensuring the reader is constantly suspicious of the town’s inhabitants.

Ari Thór  is the town’s new police officer. Directionless and adrift, he is unsure of what to do with his life. Having dropped out of theology and philosophy degree courses he joined the police force. Offered the opportunity of a two year posting in a remote northern town he accepts without consulting his girlfriend despite knowing she will be unable to leave Reykjavik because of her work and study commitments.

In winter months Siglufjörður is only accessible via a narrow tunnel. Surrounded by snow topped mountains, the area is covered in darkness from November until January. The hero’s sense of intense emotional claustrophobia is compounded by hostile weather leaving him unable to escape the town and facing the prospect that he’s trapped in the region having to cope with treacherous atmospheric conditions and the knowledge that a killer is at large.

A tense and thrilling book that paints a picture of a remote town in long-term decline. Ragnar Jonasson’s personal links to the area has ensured that Snow Blind conveys verisimilitude on every page. His grandfather lived in Siglufjörður and wrote about its history.

The author’s cool, clean prose constructs atmospheric word pictures that recreate the harshness of an Icelandic winter in the reader’s mind. Highly sophisticated storytelling techniques reveal a writer who has soaked up every lesson he could learn from Golden Age crime fiction and made it his own. Achieving the seemingly impossible, Ragnar Jonasson has reinvented the locked room mystery for a more sophisticated readership.

Translated by Quentin Bates, Snow Blind is destined to be an instant classic.

Snow Blind can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Snowblind-Dark-Iceland-Ragnar-Jonasson/dp/1910633038/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2_pap?ie=UTF8&qid=1432200881&sr=8-1&keywords=ragnar+jonasson

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