Book Review: Winterkill

Any crime fiction fans who have not yet read Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series should rectify this as soon as possible. Set in the small town of Siglufjörður, northern Iceland, this is claustrophobic noir delivered with aplomb. The voice given to the protagonist, Ari Thór Arason, conveys much about the difficulties this young man faces in his personal life. By ‘showing not telling’ the focus of each book remains on the crime to be solved. It is refreshing to have intimate scenes presented without unnecessary, voyeuristic detail. Characters have depth and nuance but exist to provide tension and pace to the story.

In this, the final installment in the excellent series, Ari Thór is now a police inspector. He and a young rookie cop are the only employees based at the town’s police station – not a problem when crimes tend to be few and minor. Set over an Easter holiday weekend, the tale opens with the discovery of a teenage girl found dead in the street with a terrible head wound. Initial impressions are that she took her own life by jumping from the balcony of an adjacent building.

Early on we learn that Ari Thór is separated from his partner, Kristín, who has moved to Sweden with the couple’s son, three year old Stefnir. Kristín and Stefnir are due to visit Siglufjörður, to enable father and son to spend time together. Ari Thór’s work ethic had been a bone of contention in his relationship with Kristín so he is concerned that this new case will impinge on his plans for family time. He cannot, however, do his job without following all leads that come to light. 

The dead girl turns out to be the sheltered, only daughter of a couple who now live apart. The mother is convinced she knew everything about her daughter’s life. The father flies in from America to harangue Ari Thór about his handling of what happened. Neither parent believes their child would have committed suicide. They expect the inspector to uncover a murderer.

Meanwhile, an old man in a local care home writes a disturbing message on his bedroom wall. Is this connected to the recent death or is it something from his past, coming to light as his dementia muddles memory timelines?

Many of those Ari Thór questions come from families who have lived in Siglufjörður for generations. Although he has now worked in the town for seven years – during which time it has changed markedly as tourism increases – he still feels at times like an outsider. He is not familiar with the many familial links that have proved important in tying threads of past cases together. He misses his old boss, and is struggling to build the same rapport with his cocky, junior officer.

Ari Thór’s desire to spend time with his son must be balanced against his need to solve the case satisfactorily. With a violent storm approaching there is an undercurrent of impending crisis – difficult decisions to be made about the future. 

The writing is as well paced and engaging as previous installments in the series. The denouement is satisfying without compromising what has gone before.

I pick up little crime fiction these days as so much merged after reading and I prefer stand out books. The Dark Iceland series is an exception. Winterkill provides a Stygian story with a somehow hopeful conclusion for readers to enjoy.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.

Book Review: Whiteout

Whiteout, by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates), is the fifth book in the author’s Dark Iceland series of crime novels to be published in English by Orenda Books. At the beginning of this instalment the protagonist, policeman Ari Thór Arason, is once again working in the small fishing town of Siglufjörður in northern Iceland. His former boss, Tómas, has moved to Reykjavik where he has joined the city force’s Serious Crimes Department. Neither is completely happy in their roles.

When the body of a young woman, Ásta Káradóttir, is discovered beneath cliffs near the deserted village of Kálfshamarsvík, Tómas feels he must prove himself to his new colleagues by uncovering how she came to die. He eschews their offers of help preferring to call on Ari Thór for assistance. Together they travel to the scene of the investigation, in a remote, northern location which has a chequered history and harbours many secrets. Ásta’s mother and sister were found dead at the same spot more than twenty years before. The policemen question if each of these deaths could have been accident, suicide or something more sinister.

In many ways this felt like a country house murder mystery with chilling, nordic noir undercurrents. The cliffs are located by a large house, a lighthouse and a nearby farm, with little else close by. The residents of these properties have barely changed in the decades over which the story is set. Parents have died, their children grown, but few have moved on.  Although Ásta was sent to live with a distant aunt when she was seven years old, shortly after her sister’s death, those who knew her as a child remain.

Ari Thór and Tómas set about questioning their potential witnesses and suspects. An elderly brother and sister, Oskar and Thora, live in the basement of the big house and work as housekeeper and caretaker. The house is owned by Reynir who inherited the property and a successful business from his father and spends time there regularly. Living on the nearby farm is Arnor who looks after Reynir’s horses and helps Oskar with his duties at the lighthouse. All were close by at the times of each of the three tragic deaths.

Post-mortem examination shows that Ásta had sex shortly before she died yet the men deny involvement. Her body was found on rocks but there is a possible head injury from another cause. Her mother and sister’s deaths were officially regarded as suicide and accident. Rumours float to the surface that Ásta, when a child, may have witnessed more than has been acknowledged. The policemen’s questions bring to light historic behaviours that those involved sought to suppress. Then another body is discovered within the big house.

The story is set in the days leading up to Christmas which everyone is eager to celebrate for a variety of reasons. To avoid problems encountered in previous years, Ari Thór has brought his heavily pregnant girlfriend, Kristin, along with him to the hotel where they are staying. The author does not introduce plot threads without reason. Knowing this adds to the tension.

I was eager to review this book as I have followed Ari Thór through each of his adventures to date and grown fond of this young man trying so desperately to do something worthwhile with his life alongside creating the happy family of his imagination. He resents having missed out on this himself. His flaws are not of excess but rather a struggle to deal with his past and accept Kristen’s individuality. The ghosts haunting all the characters are the secrets they have tried to bury.

The writing is effortlessly captivating with a brooding quality that ensures plot direction remains actively unsettling. The reader’s eagerness to understand how and why is gradually rewarded. The denouement is accomplished yet retains a degree of ambiguity.

An entertaining read from a master storyteller that is crime fiction yet avoids the genres sometimes cliched predictability. I hope this is not the final book in what is a fabulous series. Highly recommended.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher. 

This post is a stop on the Whiteout Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.  

Whiteout is published by Orenda Books.

 

Book Review: Rupture

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Rupture, by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates), is the fourth book in the author’s Dark Iceland series to be published in English. Chronologically it sits between Blackout and Nightblind.

In this instalment Siglufjörður, the small fishing town on the northern coast of Iceland where much of the series is set, has been quarantined due to a deadly virus. Policeman Ari Thór Arason uses the opportunity this creates to look into an old case from the 1950s. Two couples had moved to nearby Héðinsfjörður, an uninhabited and isolated fjord. Whilst there a child was born, Hédinn, and one of the woman apparently committed suicide. A photograph has recently come to light depicting an unknown young man alongside the two couples. Hédinn, who now lives in Siglufjörður, asks Ari Thór to investigate as some believed the death may have been murder.

Further south an aspiring musician is involved in a hit and run. He was estranged from his parents, high ranking politicians forced to step aside from public life due to their son’s drink and drug fuelled behaviour. Ísrún, a young journalist, is tasked with investigating the incident alongside her work reporting on the virus in Siglufjörður. With little new to report on either story she is amenable to assisting Ari Thór in seeking more information on his 1950s case.

Meanwhile another young man is disturbed when he discovers that his home is being targeted by an intruder. A series of events unfolds threatening all he holds dear.

Each thread of the story is enticingly presented offering the reader potential clues that are then woven together. Ari Thór has matured but remains vulnerable to the claustrophobia of his adopted home. The atmospheric darkness of Iceland alongside the isolation and introspection of its people are beautifully evoked.

A crime thriller that uses setting to full effect whilst presenting each character as fully rounded individuals. The writing effortlessly winds the reader in before revealing a satisfying denouement. This whole series is a chilling delight to read. To my mind Rupture is the most skilfully constructed yet.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Rupture Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts detailed below.

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Rupture is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

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Book Review and Giveaway for the publication of Blackout

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Today I am delighted to be the bringing the Black Out Blog Tour to a close. I hope that you have been enjoying reading the other stops on this tour, details of which are provided above. The lovely Karen at Orenda Books, who publishes the Dark Iceland series, has generously offered a fabulous giveaway which I will detail later. First though, my thoughts on the book.

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Blackout, by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates), is the third book in the author’s Dark Iceland series. It is set in the time period between the previous two – Snowblind (which I review here) and Nightblind (which I review here). In this instalment it is summer in Iceland, although the south of the island is suffering the effects of a volcanic eruption which has blanketed the area in an ash cloud.

The story opens with the discovery of a mutilated body outside a partially built house near the northern town of Skagafjörður. The victim’s legal residence is listed as Siglufjörður so this town’s police officers, Ari Thór and Tomás, are asked to assist in the suspected murder investigations. The third officer on their team, Hlynur, feels overlooked when his younger and less experienced colleague is given precedence by their boss. Hlyner’s increasing absent mindedness, due to persistent and threatening emails, has been affecting the quality of his work.

Ari Thór and Tomás travel around Iceland interviewing the dead man’s acquaintances. They are not the only ones doing so. A television news reporter, Isrun, is also taking a close interest in the case. She travels north in the hope of uncovering secrets that will enable her to regain the respect of her colleagues in the newsroom. All three soon discover that the man had been involved in shady dealings, the details of which are being kept secret by his acquaintances for a shocking reason.

Ari Thór is often abrupt and bad tempered. He is missing his former girlfriend, Kristen. Tomás is also lonely and contemplating moving south to rejoin his wife. Leaving Siglufjörður, where he has lived for so long, would be a wrench. The officers personal preoccupations distract them from reaching out to help Hlyner as he sinks deeper into a mire of his own making.

The writing jumps around in time and place offering many threads which coalesce as the denouement approaches. There are significant events from dark pasts to recount, the isolation and austerity of the land seeming to seep into its resident’s psyches. The style of the prose reflects this. It is succinct and spartan, atmospheric with elements of stark beauty.

This is another enjoyable instalment in an excellent crime fiction series which is gripping but never formulaic. The reader is transported to Iceland where they become caught up in the twisty tale. Ari Thór is on form as the prickly yet likeable young protagonist. I am already looking forward to reading his next adventure when Rupture is released early next year.

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If you would like to experience this book for yourself then read on.

Orenda Books are offering one of my readers the chance to win a free Blackout audiobook. Two other lucky readers could win a set of all three books in the Dark Iceland series (Snowblind, Nightblind and Blackout). If you would like to enter this giveaway then this is what you have to do: 

  1. Follow me on Twitter:  Jackie Law (@followthehens)
  2. Retweet the relevant tweet ensuring that you select the prize you prefer – audiobook or set of paperbacks

I will randomly draw the three winners from all those who have retweeted before 8am in the UK on Wednesday 21st September. This giveaway is open internationally.

A huge thank you to Orenda Books for supplying this magnificent prize, and for providing me with my copy of the book to review. 

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Book Review: Blackout

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Blackout, by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates), is the third book in the author’s Dark Iceland series. It is set in the time period between the previous two – Snowblind (which I review here) and Nightblind (which I review here). In this installment it is summer in Iceland, although the south of the island is suffering the effects of a volcanic eruption which has blanketed the area in an ash cloud.

The story opens with the discovery of a mutilated body outside a partially built house near the northern town of Skagafjörður. The victim’s legal residence is listed as Siglufjörður so this town’s police officers, Ari Thór and Tomás, are asked to assist in the suspected murder investigations. The third officer on their team, Hlynur, feels overlooked when his younger and less experienced colleague is given precedence by their boss. Hlyner’s increasing absent mindedness, due to persistent and threatening emails, has been affecting the quality of his work.

Ari Thór and Tomás travel around Iceland interviewing the dead man’s acquaintances. They are not the only ones doing so. A television news reporter, Isrun, is also taking a close interest in the case. She travels north in the hope of uncovering secrets that will enable her to regain the respect of her colleagues in the newsroom. All three soon discover that the man had been involved in shady dealings, the details of which are being kept secret by his acquaintances for a shocking reason.

Ari Thór is often abrupt and bad tempered. He is missing his former girlfriend, Kristen. Tomás is also lonely and contemplating moving south to rejoin his wife. Leaving Siglufjörður, where he has lived for so long, would be a wrench. The officers personal preoccupations distract them from reaching out to help Hlyner as he sinks deeper into a mire of his own making.

The writing jumps around in time and place offering many threads which coalesce as the denouement approaches. There are significant events from dark pasts to recount, the isolation and austerity of the land seeming to seep into its resident’s psyches. The style of the prose reflects this. It is succinct and spartan, atmospheric with elements of stark beauty.

This is another enjoyable installment in an excellent crime fiction series which is gripping but never formulaic. The reader is transported to Iceland where they become caught up in the twisty tale. Ari Thór is on form as the prickly yet likeable young protagonist. I am already looking forward to reading his next adventure when Rupture is released early next year.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.

Book Review: Nightblind

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Nightblind, by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates), is the second book in the author’s Dark Iceland series. These crime fiction novels, featuring policeman Ari Thór Arason, are set in Siglufjörður, a small fishing town in a narrow fjord on the northern coast of Iceland. The series started with Snowblind which I reviewed here.

Nightblind opens with the shooting of a policeman at an abandoned property just outside of the town. Ari Thór is called from his sickbed to investigate. Had he not been ill it would have been him on duty that night. He has a child now and the prospect of leaving his young son fatherless appalls him. Ari Thór’s father disappeared when he was young, an event that has affected him deeply.

The injured policeman has a teenage son who suggests to Ari Thór that the empty property was being used for drug dealing. A shotgun belonging to a teacher at the local college has gone missing, although it is unclear if this was the weapon used in the attack. Gun ownership on the island is not unusual; they are traditionally a nation of hunters. Added to this the abandoned property was the scene of an unexplained death decades ago. There is nothing to indicate that this may be relevant to the current investigation, but with no clear motive Ari Thór wishes to follow all potential leads.

Among those Ari Thór questions are the newly installed mayor and his deputy. It soon becomes clear that they both have secrets to hide. With the media taking an interest in the case these are about to be exposed with devastating consequences.

The first book in the series was set in the dark days of winter and the claustrophobia in a small town cut off from the world by snow was palpable. The setting for this story is less intense. It is not yet winter and a new road tunnel now links Siglufjörður with the rest of the island. However, the close community remains unused to opening itself to incomers. Ari Thór is aware that, to gain the trust of those who could shine a light on his investigations, or who could assist in advancing his career, he may be expected to compromise his integrity.

This is a polished and compelling work of crime fiction. The plot is edgy and fast moving with plenty of twists and thought provoking reveals. The denouement works well to bring the case to a satisfying conclusion. Ari Thór remains a believable character who the reader cannot help but root for despite his flaws. I look forward to the next book in the series which promises to fill some of the gaps in his backstory. Having read this tale, I am eager for more.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.

Nightblind Blog tour

 

This review is part of the Nightblind Blog Tour. Other posts on this tour will be published on the blogs listed above.

Book Review: Snowblind

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Snowblind, by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates), is the first in a series of crime thrillers set in Siglufjörður, which is a small fishing town on the northern coast of Iceland. The location is claustrophobic in so many ways and this is admirably evoked in the writing. Due to its isolated position inclement weather can shut the town off for days at a time. In winter the sun stays behind the mountains and snow falls relentlessly adding to the gloom. With just over a thousand residents, many of whom have lived there for most of their lives, it appears that everyone knows everyone else’s business.

The protagonist, Ari Thór Arason, arrives from Reykjavik to take up his first posting as a policeman. He parted from his girlfriend under a cloud as he had not consulted her about his new job so far away from the home they had planned to make. Having been told by his new boss, Tómas, that “Nothing ever happens here” it comes as a shock when, within a couple of months of his arrival, an elderly writer falls to his death and a young woman is found lying half-naked, bleeding and unconscious in the snow.

Ari Thór is dragged into the heart of a community which harbours secrets and treats questions from strangers with suspicion. As tension mounts the young, rookie policeman struggles to cope with the unremitting snowstorms and darkness. Lonely and on edge he makes a life threatening mistake in his attempt to bring a killer to justice.

There is so much about this book which I enjoyed. Ari Thór is a refreshingly believable crime fighter with his youthful errors of judgement, his struggles to fit in and to survive the oppressive environment. The plot twists and turns as the investigation uncovers a plethora of old deceits and current intrigues. Festering wounds are opened spilling secrets as dark as the days, as shocking as the blood on the suffocating snow.

There are two more books promised in this series and I am now eager to read them. Although the denouement wound up this case the characters have a depth which offers more. Ragnar Jónasson has created an original voice for Nordic Noir. I would recommend that readers take a deep breath and immerse themselves in his world.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.