Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson

snow blindThe place where nothing ever happens…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Rookie cop Ari Thór Arason is so pleased to be offered a posting that he immediately accepts, even though it’s in the tiny town of Siglufjördur, so far north it’s closer to the Arctic than to Reykjavik. A place, so they say, where nothing ever happens. So when an elderly writer falls down a flight of stairs to his death everyone assumes it’s an accident, and when Ari Thór is reluctant to accept this, he is quickly warned off by his boss Tómas. But when a young woman is found unconscious in the snow and bleeding from a knife wound, even Tómas has to face up to the fact that crime has arrived in Siglufjördur.

This is described in the blurb as a ‘debut’, but I think it’s actually the second in a series although the first to be translated. There are references to what sounds like a previous story involving Ari Thór and his girlfriend Kristín, but this one works fine on its own and doesn’t give any major spoilers for the earlier book, should it ever appear.

The writing is excellent, and enhanced by a fine translation by Quentin Bates, who is himself a highly regarded crime writer. Jónasson slowly builds up a claustrophobic feeling to this small fishing community, approachable only by air or through a tunnel under the mountains, both of which routes become impossible as the winter snows deepen. Ari Thór finds himself feeling more and more cut off, emotionally as well as physically, especially since Kirstín hasn’t forgiven him for accepting the posting without discussing it with her. A newcomer to a place where families have to remain for generations before they are accepted as locals, Ari Thór finds himself in the position of an outsider in a community where everyone knows everything about their neighbours – or at least they think they do. But as Ari Thór continues to ask awkward questions, old scandals are disturbed and secrets begin to come to the surface.

Siglufjördur
Siglufjördur

The basic plot is very good. It’s a proper mystery, with motives and clues, and of course the isolated setting makes for a limited cast of suspects, especially since the death of the writer took place during a rehearsal of a play. Ari Thór is a good character, not in any way dysfunctional, but with enough of a past to make him interesting. And although he’s a policeman, his method of getting at the truth is based more on interviews and reading people than on DNA and autopsies. But despite the traditional feel of some aspects, the book doesn’t feel at all old-fashioned, since both the structure and the story are firmly modern. Some parts of the plot become clear relatively early, but there’s plenty still to be revealed as the book progresses, and the various strands are brought to credible and satisfying solutions.

It takes a while for the story to get going, and there are occasional dips in the pacing, mainly caused by Jónasson’s technique of giving the backstory of each character as he introduces them – sometimes more interesting and relevant than others, I found. And every now and then, the reader is suddenly given the solution to a little piece of the mystery without the characters doing anything to reveal it, which feels a little as if he hadn’t been able to see how to work it smoothly into the story. He also hit one of my pet hates when he would let Ari Thór learn something but not make the reader privy to it – done to keep up the tension, obviously, but again it feels as if he couldn’t always quite see how to give the clues but disguise them so the reader wouldn’t spot their significance.

Ragnar Jónasson
Ragnar Jónasson

However, these are all minor niggles and things that often show up in an author’s early books while they are still developing their skills. And the weaknesses are well outweighed by the book’s strengths – the excellent sense of place, strong characterisation, intriguing and credible plotting and high quality writing. I have already added his next book (or at least the next to be translated, though I believe it’s no.5 in the series! Why do they do that?!) to my wishlist and am looking forward to reading more of them, though I can’t help but feel that tiny Siglufjördur might end up being as dangerous a place to visit as Midsomer or Cabot Cove…

An interesting side-note – apparently Jónasson has translated many of Agatha Christie’s books into Icelandic. I wonder if that may be one reason why the plotting in this one is as strong and as mystery-based as it is…

This was a People’s Choice winner. Well done, People! You picked a good one! And thanks, Raven, for the review that originally drew it to my attention.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

74 thoughts on “Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson

  1. Wait. Goodness me. You mean, he withheld information from the reader? Didn’t tell you something you wanted to know? *eyes FEF*

    Just look at that city!! Wow. Can’t pronounce a name like that, but it’s soooooo beautiful. I would climb that mountain and sit atop it. Maybe even raise the Punchy flag.

    (Do they really speak Icelandic over there?)

    • *laughs* Are you being cheeky, Chicky?! It’s the way he did it – either the detective shouldn’t know or we all should, otherwise it’s not fair!

      It’s gorgeous isn’t it? But freezing, and windy, and snowy. *shivers* It would look better with the Punchy flag, I admit. And possibly a castle on the summit…

      (I hope so, or Icelandic would end up feeling pretty neglected…)

      • Maybe a bit… *kicks the dirt* Authors cheat all the time. The beasts. We should war against them.

        It is!! But you should be okay with that. It’s not like Scotland is warm. How is the weather there? Lots of snow here. And supposedly a big storm this weekend!! My castle…

        (That’d be a cool language to speak!)

        • We should! But… what about when you finish your book? Then I’d have to war against you!! *loads peashooter in readiness*

          Yeah, but we’re not as bad as Iceland. In fact I’m not sure we’re as bad as you! We had one day of snow, now gone. It’s cold though. I like storms! My castle!!

          (Did you spot that one of my commenters actually does speak Icelandic? I’m mega-impressed!)

          • Oh I’m not writing a book, really. Unless it’s a book of music stuff. I just throw words out into the blogosphere, as of now, see.

            You don’t have any snow? Goodness. I’ll send you some, if you need it. Completely white here! I would go sledding, but I injured my knee. *cranky* Can we share it?

            (I did!!! That’s even more coolio.)

            • Well, the blogosphere is very grateful…

              Yes, your storm even made it onto our news today. Stay safe! Oh, dear – I would ask how, but you wouldn’t tell me, so I won’t! Hope it gets better soon, though. OK, that could be fun…!!

            • Even when Schwarz gets stretched? *tries not to laugh a bit*

              We got lots of snow! And it’s very cold. As of now, there could even be another storm coming later this week! Sledding is always fun, don’t you know. Okay, well, this chap sorta slammed me on my knee during a jiu jitsu match. It’s much better now, but it did hurt!!

            • Oh, my Schwarzy will just spring back to his usual gorgeous shape! I know you’re only mean to him because you’re so jealous!

              It’s so warm here again that I’ve had to stop dressing for winter – keep discovering I’m boiling! We rarely get enough snow to do things like sledding. Even when I was a kid I think I only went sledding two or three times. Ju jitsu! Goodness! A ninja Prof – what a worrying thought! Glad it’s getting better though…

            • Now that is true–the first part! Schwarz will spring back in no time, the little beast.

              Are you serious?! Well, it’s getting warm here again. Raining now. Snow is leaving. *cranky* But I’m sorta read for Spring. *laughs* Don’t worry, I’m so horrible at it.

            • He is not a beast, you beast! But he is delighfully springy! (And the second part’s true too…)

              Yes, totally serious! It’s the weirdest weather I ever remember. We’ve not really had a winter at all, except for lots of rain – but then we get lots of rain in summer too! *laughs* I’m not sure that makes me worry less, you know, you know…

      • thurr? Ooh, I’ll have to change my mental translation – I’ve been imagining dor… So how is Sigurdardottir pronounced? I kinda just do that one exactly as it’s spelled?

          • I would use it except I can’t work out how to type it! So that ‘d-thingy’ is pronounced ‘th’ then? Interesting – I’ll have to retrain my brain. I’m intrigued as to why you’re an Icelandic-ophile…

  2. I am rather tempted by this one!! If the chap is an Agatha Christie fan, I feel I am bound to get on with his work. I love that the writer died during a play rehearsal and also the notion of a close-knit, cut-off community with the cop (not an alcoholic! Gadzooks!) trying to fit in. This is very much up my street, FF!

    • I seem to prefer the Icelandic authors to the rest the Scandi authors on the whole – they’re less grim, somehow. And at a pinch you could count it as the Arctic! And then there’s Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter for the Antarctic…

  3. Glad you liked it – and the new one, just out, in eBook at least, is better on those points you mentioned – a much smoother read, I thought. Doesn’t the town look gorgeous? I was having a philosophical discussion with myself as to whether it would be easier or harder to cover up “something that happened” in a place “where nothing happens”? If you get my meaning!

    • Oh good! Yes, authors usually do manage to iron out any style problems as series go on so I try not to be put off with problems in the debut. Not that the problems in this one spoiled it in any way – just niggles, really. Hmm… yes. I think it depends on the type of murder maybe. Cities work better for random crime, but secrets and motives are more likely in small places – but could you be sure no-one knows your secrets…? Hmm…

  4. “Siglufjördur might end up being as dangerous a place to visit as Midsomer or Cabot Cove…” That cracked me up. So true. You really make me want to read this book. The withhoding of information is a pet peeve, but if the writing is as good as you say, the book is at least worth a read.

    • Haha! I always end up thinking that about these series set in tiny places! Not good holiday destinations… 😉 Yes, the withholding info that the detective knows always annoys me, but this was still a very good book and hopefully he’ll improve at that kind of thing as the series goes on…

  5. I keep hearing great things about this one, FictionFan. And I do like that context: a unique, isolated community and the outsider coming in. It can be contrived, but that’s not what I understand to be the case here. And the mystery itself sounds plausible and well-written, too – always a plus for me. But….you mean no drunken wallowing in self-pity? No addiction to painkillers? Or other evidence of dysfunction? How can this be!!!? 😉

    • Yes, I do too – I think small places or enclosed communties give a lot more scope for clues and motives, and what I think of as ‘proper’ detection. The plotting in this one was particularly strong, I thought. Haha! He did get depressed and was unable to sleep from time to time, but otherwise refreshingly angst-free! And yet still managed to work out the solution – amazing! 😉

    • Yes, this was one where if I remember rightly a certain Pro… I mean, person… rigged the voting outrageously! But for once in a good direction… 😉 I find it hard to believe even Icelanders can pronounce half their place names, and their surnames aren’t much better! 😉

  6. I’m looking forward to reading both this one and the new one that is actually #5. However, I’m going to save them for the summer when I ‘read cold books in the heat of summer’. I love Quentin Bates’ series or at least I love the 1 book from it that I’ve actually read. Iceland is rather fascinating to me. I also want to read books by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. And the comparison to Christie’s style is, for me, a big plus. Lovely review!!

    • I keep meaning to read a Yrsa Sigurdadottir – I’ve picked up a couple cheap in the last couple of years. I’m also fond of Arnaldur Indridason. I seem to have an Icelandic fascination at the moment!

      • I haven’t read Indridason yet, but I do recommend Sigurdardottir – especially her Thora Gudmundsdottir series, which I think works better than the couple of standalones I’ve read on the whole. But everything I’ve read of her has been at least good, with a few excellent…

    • Thank you! 🙂 I’ve never actually read any of Quentin Bates books though one of them has been on the TBR for a couple of years now. But I do like Yrsa Sigurdardottir very much, especially her Thora Gudmundsdottir series (really, spelling these names is a nightmare – forgive any errors!). And I liked this one a lot. I have a feeling I actually prefer the Icelandic authors to the rest of the Scandis on the whole – they seem a bit less grim, somehow, even when they’re set in places with severe weather etc like this one.

      • Yes, absolute nightmare spelling the names – I’m so anal I even made sure all the accents above the letters were correct! And perhaps that’s why I’ve an Icelandic fascination at the moment – they ARE less grim. And a gorgeous place, although I’m sure all that darkness must drive some people depressed – I think it’s bad enough here!

        • I make an effort sometimes and then other times I can’t find how to do a letter so I give up in despair! I quite enjoy the dark winter evenings – good excuse to stay in, read and drink hot chocolate! But I can’t be doing with the dark mornings – too hard to get up…

  7. btw, FF… That was some of the best television I saw yesterday! Watching the British Parliament discuss Trump was hysterical. I learned a lot of new words, too. What in the world is a “wazzock”?! I guess I can imagine. I’m going to be using that word today. (Sorry to go off topic here… I couldn’t resist. I loved it.)

    • Definitely not! In fact, I wouldn’t really call this noir at all – it’s much more of a traditional style half mystery-half police procedural. And not gory at all. In fact, I’ve seen him compared to Indridason by quite a few people…

  8. Looks most intriguing, but I appreciate your letting us know there are portions where the detective knows stuff the reader doesn’t *frowns* ‘Tis a mighty challenge when writing to cover ALL the bases, but the book’s not done ’til it’s done!

    As for those Icelandic names, well, I’ll just have to take the easy way out and guess at their pronunciation!!

    • Yes, it’s hard to give the reader all the info but to disguise it in such a way it doesn’t give the plot away. But the book’s a good’un nonetheless, and hopefully as the series goes on he gets better at that kind of detail…

      Ha! I know! Even reviewing them is a nightmare because of all those symbols above the letters. Sometimes I’m too lazy to bother getting it right… *ashamed face*

  9. I have seen such good things about this one and have resisted so far but your comments have made it all the more tempting – I do like it when mysteries are set in smaller communities, I think it gives more scope for the backstories of the characters to become more meaningful, a good thing if each of them in this novel has a fairly detailed one. Great review and don’t be surprised if you see this added to my TBR sometime in the near future!

    • Definitely worth adding! And you’ve been so good recently there must be loads of room on your TBR…

      Yes, I think I prefer crime set in smaller communities or at least in a restricted group of some kind. I’ve never been a big fan of the kind of ‘professional’ crime – gangsters, drugs etc., and I’m kinda fed up with ‘random’ crime – serial killers and so on. I’m going through a phase of preferring ‘classic’ style crime – a personal crime with a motive, and clues and red herrings and stuff.

  10. I don’t know Icelandic but have learned a few basics because I sing in a community choir and we sing the beautiful Heyr Himna Smiður. ð is pronounced th (as in there). Here’s Yrsa saying her own name and talking about Iceland, a place I’d love to visit. http://youtu.be/hjuY5FwcNAc
    Thanks for your introduction to a new Icelandic author. I’ve loved the sense of place, culture, and how both affect ways of thinking and being, that I find in Sigurðardóttir’s books and I look forward to exploring a new Icelandic point of view.
    P.S. Your Amazon USA link goes to a Snowblind by a different author.

    • Well, I’ve listened to that clip several times and think I’ll just have to give up trying to pronounce it properly! She says it so quickly! Yes, I’d like to visit Iceland some day too, probably in the summer months though. If you like her, I do think you might enjoy this author too – he doesn’t do the slightly supernatural thing that Yrsa often includes, but he still gives a great feeling for the place. Oh, and thanks for letting me know about the link – I’ve corrected it now. Hope nobody bought the wrong book as a result! Or if they did, I hope the other one’s good too… 😉

    • Another excellent recommendation – you really are a menace, Raven! I’m looking forward to Nightblind and hoping they get the other ones translated soon. Thanks for the tweet also – I had to laugh at poor Orenda Books getting so excited about the “People’s Choice Award!” Should we set them straight? Nah… 😉

    • Thank you! Yes, I did indeed enjoy the next one – Nightblind – even more! It felt as if he’d learned to deal with some of the minor problems I felt this one had. I have the third one – Blackout – sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read… 🙂

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