Blackout & Nightblind: Dark Iceland Series by Ragnar Jonasson
I got myself into a terrible muddle with the order of Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series that I began reading as part of NORDIC FINDS in January.
Having enjoyed the first episode, Snowblind, I picked up Nightblind which , according to Goodreads, is next in the sequence. It’s actually book number five though I didn’t realise this until I started on Blackout which IS number two. Once again Goodreads has this numbered wrongly because according to them Blackout is Dark Iceland series book three.
Closer investigation showed that Goodreads is not to blame for my confusion. It seems that the books in this series were not written or published in chronological order.
Usually with crime fiction I wouldn’t find it too much of an issue to read the titles out of sequence because the plots are almost invariably self-contained. In this case however, I did miss out on some significant stages in the trajectory carefully planned by Jonasson about the career and personal life of his prime character — the rookie policeman Ari Thór Araso.
Ah well, I suppose my error will give me a good reason to continue reading the series so I can fill in the gaps. I’ve also learned to double check any info on Goodreads.
Having got all this out of the way, let’s turn to my thoughts on these novels, both set in Siglufjörður, a quiet community on Iceland’s northern coast that was once the centre of the herring industry.
Blackout: translated by Quentin Bates
Much of Iceland is suffering an unnaturally gloomy summer in the ash cloud fall out from a recent volcanic eruption. But up on Iceland’s northern coast, summer is in full swing when the tiny police force in the isolated village of Siglufjörður is confronted by the brutal murder of a construction worker. His battered body is found on the shores of a tranquil fjord.
Though the junior on the team, Ari Thór is asked by his boss to lead the investigation, an opportunity he seizes with enthusiasm. The new responsibility is not only a clear signal that his career is progressing well, it will help take his mind off his former girlfriend Kristen and the relationship that broke down when he decided unilaterally to move to Siglufjörður.
The murder has also attracted the attention of another ambitious professional. Inrun, a young television journalist from Reykajvik, sets off for northern Iceland intent on getting a scoop that will show her snarky news editor she’s far better than the low-level stories she’s normally assigned. As the novel proceeds it becomes clear however that it’s not simply ambition driving her interest in this case.
Before their separate investigations are brought to a head, uncomfortable truths about earlier crimes are discovered and Ari Thór and Inrun race against time to prevent a second death.
Nightblind: translated by Quentin Bates
Spoiler Alert: If you would prefer not to know the state of play in Ari Thor’s personal life, you can skip the first paragraphs below highlighted in red.
Ari Thór’s life has changed markedly in the four years since the events depicted in Blackout. At the end of that book he still hadn’t been reconciled with ex girlfiend Kristen. But they have at least met and there are hints of a thaw.
Clearly that thaw continued because by the time Nightblind opens the pair have married and become parents. Their relationship is far from stable however with Kristen getting tempted to stray over coffees and dinner with a work colleague from the hospital.
Things haven’t gone to plan on the workfront for Ari Thór. When his boss re-located to Reykjavik, he’d hoped to be promoted to head up the Siglufjörður police station. Instead he was passed over in favour of the more experienced Inspector Herjólfur, a man with whom Ari Thór has found it hard to build any rapport.
The two-man police station at Siglufjörður is reduced to just one when Inspector Herjólfur is shot dead outside an abandoned house that has a dark history. Why was the Inspector at the house? Why did his phone records show multiple calls with the town’s Mayor. What — if anything— does this killing have to do with previous occupants of the property?
Ari Thór’s former boss Tomas is drafted back to help him with the investigation. Their inquiries take them into a world of domestic abuse, psychological disorder and prescription drug addition.
A Series Worth Reading?
Ragnar Jonasson handles his plots deftly, maintaining the suspense by mixing unnamed first person interludes into the procedural elements. In Nightblind they take the form of extracts from the diary of a patient in a psychiatric clinic and in Blackout, they concern a woman’s search for answers about her mother’s death. It isn’t until the final chapters of the book that we learn the identity of these individuals and the bearing their stories have on the crimes.
One of the aspects I enjoyed about these novels is that Ragnar Jonasson gives the usual police procedural elements a twist by incorporating themes about social issues in Iceland. So we get domestic violence and gun control in one novel and rape and human trafficking in another. Both are set against a background of Iceland’s financial crisis and recession in the early 2000s which saw the country seek a bail out from the International Monetary Fund.
The extreme weather conditions in this part of Iceland didn’t play as prominent a part in these novels as they did in the first book Snowbound. Though we get references to the approaching winter in one book, and to the almost 24-days of sunlight in summer, they don’t markedly add to the atmosphere. I know it doesn’t snow all the time even this close to the Arctic Circle but I still prefer my Nordic crime to come with avalanches and deep drifts of snow.
Despite my reservations about the reduced atmospherics in these two episodes, this is still a strong series. It’s free from detailed violence — anything of that nature is kept off camera — and the focus is more on character and themes than detection. There’s also a strong sense of the location with many references to street names and buildings in Sig plus some of its commercial premises like the bakery (famed for its cinnamon buns) and the fishmonger where Ari Thór buys his favourite breakfast food — dried fish.
This is a series that will appeal to people who like thoughtful crime fiction with a Nordic chill.
19 thoughts on “Blackout & Nightblind: Dark Iceland Series by Ragnar Jonasson”
Is there a reliable list of the order and have they all been published? I have a couple of these on my Kindle and I am glad to find the violence is off-camera, so to speak, as I can’t do violence but love reading about Iceland (I coped with the Reykjavik Nights series by Indridason OK).
This seems to be a reliable site Liz
Thanks for the recommendation! I love Iceland as a setting and will definitely look into this series. Quite often Nordic crime series are not translated in chronological order. I guess the publisher starts with one of the stronger instalments (which tends to be a bit later in the series) to get readers hooked. Haven’t heard about series actually being written out of order, but I guess it could happen as well.
I wonder what summer “in full swing” is like in Iceland. Lots of daylight I suppose. Nordic crime fiction is generally very good (not counting that Scot who pretends to be Nordic), maybe because there is always more than just the crime. Hopefully I can get Jonasson at my library – in or out of order.
The details I picked up from the book was that it meant almost 24 hours of daylight. Going to sleep could be tough unless you have linings inside curtains to block out the light
Looks gllomy at first, but “thoughtful crime fiction”? I need to reconsider.
And I hate it when they don’t publish books in the original series order in translation. They often do that for Japanese series
I could understand it if the translated versions came out in different order but I’m picking up some insight that with this series he actually wrote what is now book four immediately after book 1 and then wrote the ones in the middle. How odd
It all sounds a big faff to have to sort out the order before even starting to read. But if they are worth it…
It was so disconcerting to read in one book that a particular character is married and then in the book which I thought was the follow up, to find he is still apart from his girlfriend
Sometimes it might be better to google a series sequel. Sounds like a good series though.
I’ve also found that there are some websites which list books in a series in order of publication.
I registered as a Goodreads librarian. It’s to fix stuff like that. I haven’t touched it in years. That’s the community to contact though, if I cannot fix it. Excellent review–Iceland fascinates me, so I may try this series eventually.
I never thought about contacting Goodreads. Shall have to take a look at that – thanks Lisa. There is another Iceland author whose books are interesting – Arnaldur Indriðason
I started reading this series when they first became available over here, and you’re right in that they were all translated and published completely out of order. It was incredibly annoying, and I’m sure didn’t help with the task of keeping people as regular readers. When the second book came out we all knew what had happened to the characters because we’d all read the fifth book already!
I read somewhere that he wrote the opening book, then wrote what is now book 4 (or maybe 5) and then wrote the ones in between.How bizarre is that
I’m a strict “read-in-order” reader so this is disconcerting!
It completely baffled me initially. I thought it might have been something to do with the dates of the English versions but it does seem that he might have written them out of sequence
I also had the same problem and couldn’t work out the order. I think I eventually had to go via wikipedia before I worked it out. Enjoyed this series, has a strong sense of place and Ari Thor is enough of an interesting character to hold it all together. Definitely worth persevering with the rest of the series.
Ive since seen via Goodreads reviewers that we are not alone in facing this issue. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before a situation where the author backtracks on his own timeline