Blackout (Dark Iceland 2) by Ragnar Jónasson

Repeat after me…

🙂 🙂 😐

A man is found brutally killed outside a house he was building. Although the case is being run from the police office in Akureyri, the victim, Elías, had also been working on the new road tunnel being built in Siglufjörður , so the local police are asked to help. Unfortunately since it’s a tiny place there are only three police officers there, and each of them is far more concerned with his personal life than dealing with pesky crimes. Fortunately there’s a news reporter also on the trail, and although she has more than her fair share of personal issues too, she at least seems keen to actually do her job.

The basic plot of the book is quite interesting and the last third is comparatively fast-paced as all the different strands finally come together so that we learn why Elías was killed and get to the resolutions of some of the myriad of personal problems swilling around. For that reason, the book has escaped the one-star review that it had been heading directly towards up until that stage. But, oh dear, it’s been a long time since I read something so hopelessly repetitive as this – was there any kind of edit done on it? The number of typos and missing words in the Kindle version certainly suggest the publisher saved a bit of money on proof-reading.

By repetitive, I don’t mean that the author goes over the same things in different ways to show different aspects – done well, that can be interesting. No, in this case it’s actual repetition of the same thoughts, again and again, expressed in almost identical ways each time, and all having nothing to do with the actual case. We hear over and over about how Hlynur was a bully in his childhood and now feels guilty about it. Ari Thór still hasn’t got over his break-up with Kristín, despite two years having passed – but then again Kristín, whose thoughts on the subject we also hear repeatedly, hasn’t got over it either. The third police officer hasn’t got over the fact that his wife has left him to live in the big city. The journalist hasn’t got over something that we keep getting hints about but which isn’t revealed till very late on. Dear me, what a miserable, self-pitying, self-absorbed bunch of people to spend time with!

Then there’s the ash. The book is set just after the unpronounceable (and unspellable) volcano erupted back in, I think, 2010, and we are told innumerable times that Reykjavik is still being affected by ash in the air, while Siglufjörður is not. Once is enough. Or describe it differently each time. But to simply keep repeating it is more than tiresome.

Ragnar Jónasson

Anyway, as I said(!), on the rare occasions that the plot appears, it’s quite interesting. Elías appears to have two different reputations depending on who you talk to. Some think he’s a good man, who spends his spare time working for a charity that helps people affected by the economic crash. Others hint that he’s got a dark side, dabbling in crime and with a cruel streak. Yet others know exactly what he’s been doing, but can’t share that knowledge with the police for fear of incriminating themselves. In the brief moments that the police and the journalist can spare from their personal problems, they manage to piece together Elías’ true character and find the reason for his murder. There is also a linked strand that leads to a kind of thriller ending – a race against time to save a life – and this is done reasonably well, although still interrupted by all the personal problems reaching their climaxes at the same time.

I have loved some Jónasson books in the past, and I honestly don’t know if it’s that I’ve become more critical of the kind of filler employed by contemporary crime writers and their concentration on their protagonists’ angst rather than the mystery at hand, or if indeed this book simply isn’t up to the standard of his others. Probably a combination of both. Either way, I’d find it hard to recommend this one. I made it to the end but only by dint of exerting every ounce of willpower I possess…

This was The People’s Choice winner for October. You win some, you lose some… 😉

Book 10 of 12

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37 thoughts on “Blackout (Dark Iceland 2) by Ragnar Jónasson

  1. Your post is such a good reminder, FictionFan, that editing is important! It really does matter. If the interesting parts of a story are in just a part of the book, that means some editing’s in order, especially the repetitiveness. Still, it does sound like an interesting premise, and the setting appeals. As you say, win some, lose some…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was actually quite a busy plot and I felt the plot elements all got crammed together at the end to make room for all the personal stories – it could have been so much better with a strong edit. It would probably have worked better as a novella.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting review which made me go back and look at what I thought of the novel (5 years ago so I am not sure I remember it in detail). I guess one person’s ‘atmospheric’ can be another’s ‘repetitive’! I seem to have written that it was about ‘force, control and coercion’ but perhaps not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was about four or five years ago that I read and enjoyed a few of his books, so it may well be that I’ve just got increasingly fed up with hearing endlessly about characters’ personal lives rather than getting on with the plot. But there was so much repetition in it…

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  3. I remember enjoying this, but admittedly I do tend to whizz through his books very quickly, maybe if I’d taken more time over it the repetition would have struck me more. Glad it managed to salvage a further 1.5 stars at the end though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I enjoyed some of his books four or five years ago, so I’m sure it’s partly just that I’m fed up with all these angst-ridden protagonists. But oh dear, if he had told me about Ari Thor missing Kristin one more time I’d have had to punch him… 😉

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  4. Oh dear, you have so much more patience than I. I just participated in a technique workshop last week, discussing this very thing—deepening understanding through repetition that adds something each time vs. repeating the same thing ad nauseum. Clearly, this author needs a little brush up. And the editor needs to use their red pencil more liberally.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think some authors think that simple repetition works to emphasise something, but it doesn’t – it takes a lot of skill to make repetition effective. This small publisher was churning out books at a phenomenal rate back when this came out, and from the appalling Kindle formatting it’s clear they were cutting corners, and it looks like editing was one of those corners!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I started reading Jónasson’s The Darkness but unfortunately spotted a spoiler for the ending somewhere or other. I’ll try again next year before I even consider this title you’ve reviewed here.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t know what’s going on, I keep leaving comments on several blogs and they just disappear! I wanted to say I have downloaded this and the first one but never seem to have picked them up, perhaps I’ve preserved myself from a not-great read or two!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a look, Liz, and yes, your first comment ended up in spam – it’s so annoying when that happens! However this one came straight through so hopefully the problem is resolved. Looking back at my review I liked the first one much more than this, so I honestly don’t know if it’s just that I’ve become hypercritical of modern crime – I certainly rarely enjoy much of it now. So I’d tend to read the first one and see what you think!

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  7. I presume his books are always written in English? So it can’t be a translation issue rather than poor editing? I can tolerate a few editing errors, but the repetition would have driven me crazy (short trip).

    Liked by 1 person

    • No they’re all translated, I think usually by Quentin Bates who also writes crime novels of his own (which I haven’t read). To be honest I only start noticing typos and suchlike when a book is boring me – if I’m involved in the story they just pass me by. So when I get grumpy about them I know it means the book has lost my interest…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s funny, I’m starting to notice repetition in writing too, and for those of us who finish over the course of a few days rather than a few weeks, this is even more obvious. It really bothers me too b/c it demonstrates neither the author, editor, or copyeditor is paying any attention 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it probably does stand out more if you’re reading quite quickly, like we do. The author has to take the ultimate responsibility, of course, but I do wonder what some editors do to earn their fee…

      Liked by 1 person

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