😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂
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.
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.
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.