Review: Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson

Once I finished reading Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson, I immediately started on the second book of his Dark Iceland Series – Blackout.

Blackout picks up in Siglufjordur around 1 ½ years after the events of Snowblind, in which we were first introduced to policeman Ari Thor. Still based in Siglufjordur, we are greeted with a different character to the man who graced the pages in book one: he is no longer a rookie, but a more mature, confident and assured member of the police force.

The book opens with the discovery of a body, beaten and unrecognisable; on a building site near Akureyri. The book follows the developments of the case over the space of around 48 hours. As well as following the ‘real time’ investigation, the story is supplemented with flashbacks to months and years prior to the current events.

As the investigation develops, we are drawn into a much darker and more sinister world than that which was inhabited by the characters of Snowblind; and are given a glimpse of a societal undercurrent which echoes modern day’s threats and crises.

We are introduced to Isrún, a journalist with a back story of her own, who plays a large part in the developments of the book. Hlynur, Ari Thor’s colleague who we saw only from the side lines in Snowblind, has his own tale to tell in this book; and this runs parallel to the main story, telling us more about his past and troubling present.

We also get to pick up with Kristin, Ari Thor’s ex-girlfriend who has moved to Akureyri to take up the doctor’s post she accepted before she and Ari Thor separated. We have a window into her life as she tries to move on from their relationship.

Blackout moves at a fast pace, with Jonasson’s skilled writing pulling the reader through the story with ease. The looming darkness of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, coupled with his trademark descriptions of the wild beauty of Iceland creating the perfect backdrop to this murder mystery.

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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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