Site icon BookerTalk

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.

Exit mobile version