Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson — atmosphere laden Nordic crime

Cover of Snowblind, an atmospheric novel set in Iceland by Ragnar Jonasson

Snowblind offers an interesting twist on the locked room murder mystery genre beloved of the Golden Age crime writers.

Ragnar Jonasson’s mystery takes place in Siglufjörður, a quiet fishing town on Iceland’s northern coast; a community so remote it can be reached only by sea or via a narrow tunnel carved through the mountains.

It’s winter when trainee police officer Ari Thór Araso arrives to take up his first post. If he was hoping for excitement, he is quickly brought down to earth — there’s so little crime in this town that no-one bothers to lock their doors. His days are spent handling paperwork and dealing with the occasional traffic violation.

The quiet routine is disrupted by the sudden death of a local celebrity author, found dead at the bottom of a stairwell in the town’s theatre. Soon after a young woman is discovered in the snow amid a pool of blood. Are these simply accidental deaths ? Or, as begins to suspect, have the tensions lurking behind the tranquil facade of this settlement spilled over into murder? As snow storms and an avalanche cut Siglufjörður off from the outside world, the fingers of suspicion point to the residents of Siglufjörður.

Snowblind has the feel of a classic murder mystery with a methodical investigation and more than a few red herrings, particularly as Jonasson plays a few tricks with his narrative structure. The extreme weather conditions add another dimension, creating just the chilling, sinister atmosphere I look for in Nordic crime fiction.

As far as the eye could see the world was white, the streets bleached with silvery snowdrifts piled across the pavements. The mountains sparkled, their peary surfaces broken by the occasional fleck of black. The pale sky was an indication that the next fall of snow was not far away. it was as if nature had called a temporary truce, although everyone knew that sooner or later the weather would close in once again.

This is the first of Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series which all feature Thór Araso. He’s an interesting departure from the moody detective figure familiar from the Wallender series by Henning Mankell or Arnaldur Indriðason’s detective Erlendur Sveinsson. It makes a refreshing change to get a young, slightly “green” investigator, instead of the world-wise detective carrying the baggage of broken relationships or drink problems.

Thór Araso is devoted to justice but prone to mistakes and errors of judgement. He’s found it hard to adjust to life in this community where everyone seems to know everyone. The locals are not especially welcoming, viewing him as something of an oddity especially when they learn he had once studied theology.

The isolation of Siglufjörður leaves its mark on the young officer, Without any friends in the town he is forced to spend more and more of his time alone, with just a book and music for company. The long dark days and unremitting snow push him into deeper into despondency, particularly as he reflects on his relationship with the girlfriend who chose to stay behind in Reykjavik.

Snowblind  won’t appeal to readers who like fast-paced, action-based crime fiction. But for people who enjoy novels that offer methodical plots, well-realised characters and a strong sense of their location, this would be hard to beat.

I read this as part of the NORDIC FINDS reading event hosted by Annabel @AnnaBookBel. There’s still time to join in the fun or discover what other people are reading by visiting the NORDIC FINDS page.

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

20 thoughts on “Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson — atmosphere laden Nordic crime

  • January 29, 2023 at 12:25 am
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    Thanks for this review (I skipped some of it as I don’t know how many spoilers are in there) but it looks like you liked it. This book has been on my TBR for a long time. 2023 sounds like the year to read it!

    Reply
    • January 31, 2023 at 11:17 pm
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      No need to fear seeing any spoilers – I deliberately avoided those.

      Reply
  • January 23, 2023 at 10:28 pm
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    This is encouraging – I have this and the second one (I think) somewhere in my Kindle but then got worried it was going to be really extreme (like Kaggsy). I was fine with the Indriðasons, though.

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  • January 20, 2023 at 11:56 pm
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    A great series I’d missed. I’ve been meaning to dig into this. Really helpful review. Thx.

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    • January 21, 2023 at 6:18 pm
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      I’m now on book 2 – so that gives you a sense of how much I enjoyed it because I rarely read two books from the same author in succession

      Reply
  • January 16, 2023 at 3:32 pm
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    I had planned initially to read Ragnar Jonasson’s 2018 thriller The Darkness until I got sidetracked by an Icelandic saga, but on the basis of this review I might not wait till next January to read it! I’m okay with slow patient sleuths plodding away. 🙂

    Reply
    • January 16, 2023 at 5:24 pm
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      I think The Darkness is from his other series – the one called Hidden Iceland? I’ll finish this one first I think but if they are as good as the first book in the series, then I’ll take a look at Hidden Iceland

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    • January 16, 2023 at 5:24 pm
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      Those are the only kind of crime fiction I tend to enjoy now – the rest just seem so predictable and forgettable

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  • January 16, 2023 at 3:10 pm
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    I do like a book with a strong sense of place: and with a slow-burn of a plot too, so this sounds like a good choice. However, it’s not in our library catalogue, though plenty more by Ragnar Jonasson are. Maybe I could start off with a different pne?

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      • January 16, 2023 at 9:17 pm
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        Thanks so much. Yes, the libraries between them have several of these, so one way or another I can give him a go.

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  • January 16, 2023 at 12:41 pm
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    I’ve only read the last in the Ari Thor series – which was good – but I hear the early ones are better. I think I have acquired a copy of this one since last year (!) but won’t have time to read it this month. Glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for joining in.

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    • January 16, 2023 at 4:51 pm
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      I usually find it unsatisfying if I read one of the later books in a series but haven’t read any of the first ones. I end up feeling as if there is something missing which of course is right because I am missing all the progression of the characters and the way they interact with each other. That might be why I was unimpressed with the Elly Griffiths novel I read – just couldn’t see what other readers enjoyed.

      Reply
  • January 15, 2023 at 9:01 pm
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    I’ll try to get this one. I”m having an unusual binge of murder mysteries or police procedural, listening to Chestnut Man for this same event.

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    • January 15, 2023 at 10:23 pm
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      I think Chestnut Man might have been serialised on TV – possibly Netflix or Amazon Prime

      Reply
  • January 15, 2023 at 8:19 pm
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    Thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy. As you say, there’s a strong sense of place and Ari is an interesting character. The isolation and unrelenting weather really add to the atmosphere.

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    • January 15, 2023 at 10:25 pm
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      The ending was tantalising – now `i want to find out how that relationship is resolved (or not)

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  • January 15, 2023 at 8:07 pm
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    This does sound good. I veered away from Scandi crime as it was getting too extreme and violent for me, but I did read some Icelandic mysteries I enjoyed. And I’m sure I have a copy of one of his novels somewhere in the house – keen to dig it out now…

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    • January 15, 2023 at 10:27 pm
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      It was certainly refreshing not to have a high quota of violence. The focus is on the character of the detective but in a very thoughtful, measured way

      Reply

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