It’s rapidly becoming a cliché to say it, but that doesn’t make it less true – Iceland punches well above the weight of its 300,000-strong population in both literature and soccer. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Arnaldur Indriðason, Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Árni Þórarinsson, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and the 1955 Nobel prize-winning Halldór Laxness are just a few of the startling number of authors who hail from this tiny island, where one in 10 people will apparently publish a book.
Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series is quickly finding its place in this North Atlantic canon. The third instalment, Blackout, sees the return of police detective Ari Thór Arason, hero of Nightblind and Snowblind, the two previous entries in the series. Two sequels – Broken and Breathless – are due out in the UK in 2017. All the novels so far have been set in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in mainland Iceland which, intriguingly, is accessible only through mountain tunnels. Jónasson describes it as “an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their door.” But it wouldn’t be Scandi crime if this peace wasn’t gruesomely broken once in a while.
Blackout opens on the shores of a tranquil fjord as a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance. Ari Thór and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjörður struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies.
Nightblind used the geographic isolation of the village to fantastic effect to heighten tension, as heavy snows cut the village off completely. Blackout repeats this claustrophobic atmosphere, as a nearby volcanic eruption provided the “blackout” of the title, leading to properly scary results. If this all sounds like a modern take on Agatha Christie, Jónasson probably knows more about the crime master than all of us, having translated 14 of her novels into Icelandic (beginning at just age 17!). But he also draws on his own experiences to create a truly thrilling and authentic atmosphere – born in Reykjavik, Jónasson works as a lawyer, and also moonlights as a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.
The evocative setting, paired with poetic writing and an author who knows how to use misdirection to really run rings around the reader, make this yet another triumph from one of Iceland’s finest crime writers. Dark, terrifying and complex, Blackout is sure to follow it’s prequels to the top of the charts.
Blackout is published 15 July by Orenda
Post by Clara
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