Winterkill by Ragnar Jónasson

From the PR:“Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes.

Ari Thór Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air.

Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death…

As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjörður, Ari Thór must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth … one that will leave no one unscathed.

Chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing, Winterkill marks the startling conclusion to the million-copy bestselling Dark Iceland series and cements Ragnar Jónasson as one of the most exciting authors in crime fiction.”

I’m not happy to be writing this review, not happy at all. This cannot be the end of the Dark Iceland series, surely. The compelling journey of Ari Thór, steered by the massively talented hand of Ragnar Jónasson, from rookie newcomer to seasoned Siglufjörður resident and police inspector has been an absolute pleasure to read. This can’t be the end. And yet, here we are.

The plot itself… well, the case looks to be a non-starter at first. Yet as keen as Ari Thór is to park it and focus on spending time with his son and work out his relationship with Kristín (oh how I longed for that to end differently), too many little things begin to pop up and Ari Thór knows something isn’t right. There’s something lurking behind the apparent suicide that he needs to know and, in unravelling that thread he begins to reveal a lot more than expected all the while wrestling with his desire to not be so involved with the case and his intrinsic sense of humanity and drive to discover the truth. It makes for a brilliant read.

One of the key elements in making the Dark Iceland series so addictive is Jónasson’s skill as a writer. He’s brilliantly adept at weaving  a deep and intricately plotted  mystery while simultaneously keeping the reader engrossed in Ari Thór’s own personal pressures in a way that makes Winterkill a gripping book.

Siglufjörður makes for a superb setting for a mystery novel: it’s both chilling and remote and even if it’s no longer as cut-off from the rest of Iceland as it once was you get the feeling that despite an additional tunnel and the ease with which, say, Ari’s old boss Tómas can be reached on the phone, there’s still a sense of isolation in the town that really adds to novel’s atmosphere, especially when the snow storms kick in. As with previous novels in the series, Jónasson populates Winterkill with a brilliantly vivid cast of characters that, were I to find myself in Siglufjörður, I would honestly expect to meet in the street. His portrayal of the grief-stricken mother is really powerful and the degree to which I know it will stay with me for a while is a testament to Ragnar Jónasson’s skill. It’s just so very well written.

What’s made the Dark Iceland series, and Ragnar Jónasson’s writing, standout and prove so enjoyable to read is how subtly your attention can be hooked by little details and how many doors these open for further exploration. Winterkill is no exception – in its gentle pacing, the plot touches on so many intrigues and characters as it builds up a real momentum, Jónasson expertly leading us along until a real ‘what the fu..’ shocker comes barrelling in and, in Winterkill, it’s a real shocker that will stay with you.

So, is this the end of the story for Ari Thór? There’s a little note from the author at the start of Winterkill in which Ragnar Jónasson points out that the story is for those fans that kept asking for one more Ari Thór story. I can’t help but think there’s a lot more to be told about Siglufjörður’s police inspector, what was the secret of his parents hinted at in previous books, for example? What will the growing number of people coming into the town mean for crime in a place where seemingly nothing happens but so much is going on? Who knows, maybe if we ask Ragnar enough…..

My thanks, as always, to Karen  at Orenda Books (a continual source of high-quality fiction) for my copy of Winterkill and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

 

 

Blog Tour: Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

fullsizerenderThe calm, secluded Icelandic town of Siglufjörður is even more quiet than usual; the sudden illness and death of a visitor means the town is in quarantine.

For Ari Thór this is not necessarily a bad thing – he and Tómas are now the lone members of the police force, splitting shifts between them. But he’s not keeping idle. A local man, Heddin, asks him to look into a decades-old mystery: in 1955 two young couples moved to the isolated and otherwise uninhabited Hedinsfjörður. Their attempts to forge a new life come to disturbing end when one of the women dies after consuming poison, help too far away to reach her in time. The case was never solved and suicide considered the accepted explanation. Heddin, the son of one of the couples and born in Hedinsfjörður himself, has been given an old photograph that may prove something more sinister occurred in that desolate fjord – for, holding the infant Heddin in his arms, an unknown man smiles back at the camera.

Who is the man in the photo? Does he have anything to do with the death of Heddin’s aunt? What really happened out on that bleak fjord? Unable to leave town, Ari is assisted in his investigations by Ísrún, a news reporter (introduced in Black Out) who’s chasing a case of her own.

Isrun’s case is a far more complex and  multi-faceted one that brings together a child abduction, murder and political ambition that is at times genuinely chilling and nerve-wracking. The hurried, freedom of her movement in Reykjavík further emphasising the cooped-up restraint of Siglufjörður as both she and Ari Thór discover just how far the actions of the past can reach into the present.

The splitting of action in Rupture allows Ragnar Jónasson to really flex his skills as a writer; equally strong in both establishing a slow burning mystery in Siglufjörður and a gripping, fast-paced thriller of a story in Reykjavík, each complex and packed with enough intrigue and revelation to ensure the pages of Rupture are turned with speed.

With many a well known series character there’s not much of an unknown quality about them. Their history and character traits are pretty quickly established and it’s seeing how these known elements handle changing situations that make for so many of their books. Everyone knows, for example, how a Jack Reacher type will respond in a given situation or whether a Harry Hole type will pick up a drink or not. What makes the Dark Iceland series so bloody addictive is that this isn’t the case with Ari Thór; glimpses and insights into his past and character are revealed with each book (the violent jealousy in Black Out or the truth of his parents hinted at in Night Blind) but the whole remains hidden so as to make the character of its lead as much a mystery as the crimes themselves and keep the reader coming back to the police station in Siglufjörður.

Rupture is a fantastic book, another brilliant instalment in the Dark Iceland series which is itself a vital addition to both the thriller genre and any discerning bookshelf. I cannot recommend this enough.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy and do check out the previous stops (I seem to have the honour of closing it) on the Rupture blog tour.

rupture-blog-tour

Black Out

Think of Iceland and you’ll no doubt think of geysers, calm, tranquil fjords… perhaps even volcanic eruptions. Crime and murder will probably not be one of those connections that springs to mind. The same is certainly true for Evan Fein, an American tourist, as he searches for Grettir’s Pool, an ancient stone-flagged hot bath, down narrow roads and scanning country lanes and farm gates. What awaits Evan, though, isn’t a relaxing dip in steaming water, it’s a dead body, a man brutally beaten to the point that he is “practically unrecognisable,” “where there had been an eye, there was now an empty socket.”

CnGralHXgAA9a6pThis is the start of Black Out, the latest instalment in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series to be translated into English and published by Orenda Books and it’s bloody good to be back in Siglufjörður once again. Black Out sits second in the Dark Iceland series and picks up after the events of Snow Blind; Ari Thór, while now more at peace in the town, is dealing with the fallout of his confession of infidelity to his girlfriend, Kristín who herself is now living a short distance away in the neighbouring Akureyri. The Inpector, Tómas, is debating his own future in the town after his wife’s move south to Reykjavik and Hlynur is dealing with the chilling consequences of his past.

It’s into this state of distraction that the news of the murder is dropped and Ari Thór and Tómas set about investigating the victim’s connections to the town – the only real starting point is that the victim, Elías, was part of a crew working on the new tunnel. Tómas is far from thrilled at the opening of the tunnel, worrying what it will bring into the town. Strangely enough, the more that Ari Thór digs into the storied past of some of the residents it’s clear that even without infrastructure upgrades, Siglufjörður holds many a disturbing secret. Some people know exactly what Elías was involved in but nobody is talking and so much remains hidden despite the 24-hour light of the Arctic summer that the police are in the dark.

That contrast of tones – darkness in the shadows of an otherwise idyllic scene – is what makes that creeping sense of dread so much more powerful and chilling as, piece-by-piece, the clues come together and the quiet town of Siglufjörður becomes the epicentre of a taught, methodically plotted story involving money laundering, sex-trafficking, child abuse, rape and murder. Be warned – Black Out gets very dark.

This time around it’s not just the Siglufjörður police that are trying to crack the case; Isrun, a news reporter is also chasing down and finding her own leads as she races for an exclusive. The introduction of Isrun means that Jónasson is able to add further elements to the story and take the reader further afield to Reykjavik (shrouded in a volcanic ash cloud) and the politics and rivalries of the newsroom. I’ll avoid going further in terms of Isrun’s involvement in the investigations or her own motivations to avoid spoilers but I will say that it was a genuine surprise and a welcome change up, further evidencing that Ragnar Jónasson’s writing is anything but formulaic. She’s also another thoroughly great and compelling character.

Jónasson has a gift when it comes to crafting memorable characters. Ari Thór, while not always likeable, is given increasing depth and dimension with every instalment and his relationship with Kristín gives greater insight as well as further developing her own character. Somewhat sadly, of all the threads surrounding the main narrative, it’s the sub-plot surrounding Hlynur that is perhaps the most gripping and while having already read Night Blind means I knew where it would lead, was nonetheless genuinely affecting and moving.

Weaving together all the sub-plots of such a multifaceted story could prove challenging yet Ragnar Jónasson makes it seem effortless – while his history of translating Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic means he’s no stranger to mystery writing, it’s his own voice and skill that makes Black Out and the Dark Iceland series one of the most compelling and rewarding additions to the thriller genre. Each instalment delivers more and leaves the reader in eager anticipation for the next. The first snippet of the next instalment (included at the end of Black Out) had me checking the door was properly locked and bolted. Not something I’ve done since I read The Snowman. A series and author well deserving of the highest praise. Very much looking forward to more.

Huge thanks once again to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and I do wholeheartedly recommend Black Out.