Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates)
Published by Orenda Books in 2015
Series: Dark Iceland (English) #1
Genres: Crime, Thriller
Verdict: Pretty good
Let me start by saying I read this book because of the hype on social media, as this book caused quite a stir. I found the translation a little cumbersome and occasionally I tripped over what the translator, Quentin Bates, was getting to. On the other hand, I feel this may have been done purposefully, as it fit with the main character’s level of naïveté. That said, I thought this was quite a well-structured crime novel, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that Jónasson had spent many years translating Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic.
Ari Thór Arason is a young man, orphaned at an early age, searching for some meaning in his life. He lives with his girlfriend in his apartment in Reykjavik and has just completed his training to be a policeman, after dropping out of theology studies. His position becomes desperate as he tries to find a job during the recession, resulting in him impulsively taking a job offer in the tiny northern fishing town of Siglufjördur and leaving his girlfriend behind as she completes her own studies. Soon after Ari Thór’s arrival, the peace in the small community is broken as a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and on the verge of death, and an elderly author is found dead in an accident at the local theatre.
At this point we get an interesting view into the small-town politics that drive the lies and secrets that Ari Thór has to sift through to get to the bottom of the sudden unrest in this little town. Add an avalanche blocking all hopes of escape from the 24 hour darkness that smothers the town and you have this claustrophobic, tense mystery.
Ari Thór is a likeable character thrust into an environment where he is very much the outsider, missing his girlfriend and confused at her reaction to his accepting the job so far away, when he meets the pretty Ugla and takes great comfort in their friendship, but fights with his guilty conscience as he tries to understand his feelings for her. He meets a lot of resistance as he interacts with many of the locals to find a killer but he persists, learning from his mistakes as he goes. The narrative skips from Ari Thór to many of the people he speaks to, delving into their pasts in order to flesh out the history of the town and it’s inhabitants. It can be confusing to read but this is setting up the scene for the following books in the series.
There is something so satisfying in reading a crime novel where all the threads introduced in the beginning are explained and tied up neatly at the end, and Jónasson does this beautifully while still alluding to a great story, a greater mystery to come in future novels. The scene he paints is vivid and you can feel Ari Thór’s discomfiture as he tries to get to grips with this strange landscape. The story may come across as plodding and slow, a traditional whodunnit, but I think it sets the stage for exciting books to come and I believe it’s accessible for readers of all genres.