Review: Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

I have not come across a huge number of books which can hook you on the first page; even fewer that can do so in the first paragraph. But the rawness of the opening sentence of Snowblind sets the tone for what is a very clever crime story and an outstanding first novel:

The red stain was like a scream in the silence.

The first book in Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, Snowblind follows Ari Thor Arason, a young police recruit about to finish his training. He is offered a job with the police force in Siglufjordur, a small town he doesn’t know much about except that:

…one could hardly travel further north in Iceland; a place probably closer to the Arctic Circle than to Reykjavik.

He accepts, leaving his girlfriend and their apartment behind in Reykjavik and moving to the town where nobody locks their doors and, in the words of his sergeant, nothing ever happens.

Except when it does.

Installed in Siglufjordur, Ari Thor tries to settle into life in a small town surrounded by mountains. He takes piano lessons with Ugla, a young woman who has also recently moved to the town and understands his feelings of entrapment and claustrophobia. On Christmas Eve, alone on the evening shift, Ari Thor receives a phone call which marks the beginning of an investigation that will chill the town to its bones. When a young woman is found seriously injured in the snow and an elderly, famous writer meets his death in the local theatre, Ari Thor must battle community secrets, heavy snowfall, and the avalanches which block off the only route in or out of the town.

Snowblind is an excellent novel, and an impressive debut from Jonasson. The characters are skilfully interwoven using a variety of narrative viewpoints, and there is a large enough quantity of these to tax your brain into trying to piece them all together; while not being so overwhelming that it’s impossible to keep up with what’s going on.

Jonasson’s description of the wild, raw beauty of Iceland and its small, isolated towns paints a picture of the country in the reader’s mind which is both impressive and intimidating, at the complete mercy of the elements. His writing evokes the sense of absolute claustrophobia that Ari Thor feels at being surrounded by snow and unable to escape, and the reader feels all of this with our protagonist. The book keeps you guessing until the end, culminating in a twist that I, for one, most definitely did not see coming.

This sophisticated piece of Icelandic Noir is perfect for curling up against a cold, dark evening. I’m looking forward to getting started on book 2 – Nightblind!

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Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Review

Well hello! Long time no speak… Since the time of my last blog post, I’ve gotten married, started a new job and jetted off for the most beautiful 2 weeks in Sri Lanka for our honeymoon. Now, we’re back and fully settled into married life, and I have been able to up my reading once more!

I’ve also had a think about what it is I wanted to focus on in this space. I am no beauty queen, I cannot afford to buy new clothes every week, and I don’t feel like I can (or want to) write faithfully about these subjects any more. What I can do, however – and do frequently – is read. Buy books. Add to an ever-increasing TBR list and a Kindle that’s bursting with un-reads. I have an inability to walk past a bookshop without popping in ‘for a browse’ and coming out with a volume I just couldn’t leave behind. Going forward this blog will focus on books: my reviews of them, the books I want to read, general chatter and reflection. So, brew up a cuppa, get cosy in your reading chair and have a read of the first review of 2017: Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan.

Book Blind Dates 

I had been desperate to read this book for SUCH a long time! In November, I was at an event at the Biscuit Factory in Ouseburn and happened to walk past their pop-up Forum Books shop (sheer coincidence…ahem). There was a huge basket of ‘blind date’ books just staring at me, and after much deliberation, I picked up this unassuming brown paper package all tied up with string:

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How could you say no to that description?! Turns out I couldn’t, and I was so pleased when I unwrapped it to find Mr Penumbra looking back at me. (Also, on a side note – get yourself along to the Biscuit Factory. Art and books and a lovely coffee shop!)

The Review 

I have often thought that what I needed in my life was a 24 hour bookshop, so of course this book caught my eye! I also love books about books, and bookshops. Sloan’s writing is free-flowing, easy and very engaging; and it’s easy to lose, say, the best part of a day getting completely absorbed in this book. It’s also a funny read, without trying too hard at it. From the moment Mr Penumbra stepped from the shadows and asked Clay Jannon:

“What do you seek in these shelves?” 

I was hooked.

The book follows our protagonist Clay as he joins Mr Penumbra’s bookstore as the night clerk. A strange and mysterious place, frequented by a host of rather eccentric individuals and not many other visitors, it doesn’t take Clay long to stumble upon the bookshop’s secret and get pulled into a whole other world: a place of old books, e-books, and the battle between, and integration of; old and new. With Google alongside ancient texts and coding alongside catalogues, this book is just fun. It made me want to learn to code and write a book and buy a bookshop all at once. I read it in two sittings.

I enjoyed the characters who grace the pages of MP24HB – (it’s a long title to type out!) – in my mind, Penumbra was an eclectic combination of Dumbledore, Gandalf, Merlin from The Sorcerer’s Stone and my own Grandad. Clay is the unlikely hero alongside a modern-day (Google) wizard Kat; and the bookshop patrons are lovable in their quirkiness.

This book also contains one of my favourite lines in literature:

“Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.”

Festina Lente, friends – enjoy!

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