Review - SNOWBLIND, Ragnar Jónasson
Beautifully written, SNOWBLIND comes with great characters; a wonderful sense of place; a cleverly constructed plot; and that introspective, claustrophobic feeling that often appeals to fans of Icelandic and Scandinavian crime fiction. Coupled with a lyrical translation by Quentin Bates there was not an off-key note from start to finish.
The first in the Dark Iceland series sees Ari Thór Arason take up his first job as a policeman far from his previous life, and girlfriend based in Reykjavik. There’s a number of changes explored in this move - Arason’s willingness to go for a start, leaving his girlfriend and the life they were building, and the consequences of that decision. The move to such a small, isolated, insular type of community is also a big change for a boy from the city. Getting used to the dynamics and personalities of this small place give the author a chance to really move his character outside his comfort zone. Then there is the cut-off, isolated location itself. Literally cut-off by the weather, another challenge for Arason comes from that idea of being trapped.
Surrounding a man struggling with so much change with a plot that’s a particularly elegant version of the locked room scenario works well. The cast of character are framed within this small society, locked off due to weather, and therefore outside of everybody’s control. The violent assault and suspicious death that occur must have been perpetrated by an insider creating a sense of vulnerability and suspicion. Often this idea of the entire list of possible perpetrators pushed right into the spotlight from the start can wobble a little. Obvious red herrings, or under concentration on one person can make them stand out as if there was a lighted, pointed arrow hanging over their heads. Not so in SNOWBLIND. In a series of clever little tricks the reader, who by this stage is likely to be as committed to solving the mystery as Arason, could easily be as confused as he is. None of these tricks, however, are overt, until reflection back at the end of the novel.
The setting of cold, dark and overbearing climate might be a cliché of this sub-genre but here it is perfectly done. The use of the weather as the reason for the isolation, means it already has a focus and is part of the story. To involve it more, as a factor that affects everyone’s thinking and actions as well works. As does the blend of eccentric and normal, long term residents and newer arrivals, people who have adjusted to the place and those that are still struggling. The really personal elements, the romance, the longing and the resignation of loss worked well, pitched perfectly within the protagonist’s searching for meaning and explanation for life.
Even allowing for a personal liking for these dark, thoughtful and retrospective style of books, there was much to be admired in SNOWBLIND. Those aspects that are typical of the sub-genre are really well executed, those that are a little outside the norm were elegantly delivered. The second in the series, NIGHTBLIND is due out on December 1st. That should be in around 11 days, 4 hours, 20 or so minutes, give or take a few minutes.
Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.