Blog Tour: Whiteout by Ragnar Jónasson

WhiteoutFrom the PR: “Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of the deserted village of Kalfshamarvik. Did she jump, or did something more sinister take place beneath the lighthouse and the abandoned old house on the remote rocky outcrop?

With winter closing in and the snow falling relentlessly, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s mother and young sister also lost their lives in this same spot, twenty-five years earlier. As the dark history and the secrets of the village are unveiled, and the death toll begins to rise, the Siglufjörður detectives must race against the clock to find the killer, before another tragedy takes place.”

With Whiteout, the fifth of his Dark Iceland novels published into English by Orenda Books (though, I think, the fourth chronologically?), Ragnar Jónasson seems to have set himself a challenge – a remote and isolated location, a small (and dwindling) number of witnesses / suspects and a limited time window for the investigation. Throw in the possibility that there was foul play afoot in the deaths of the victims mother and sister years previously in the same location and Mr Jónasson has created a belter of a read.

Taking  characters and events out of Siglufjörður removes both the characters and the reader from the relative comfort zone of the former instalments of the series and adds a real edge to proceedings, heightened further by both the remoteness of Kalfshamavík and the chilling nature of all three deaths under investigation. Setting such a chilling (and, come the reveal, thoroughly disturbing) series of events against the backdrop of the build up to Christmas and its festivities doesn’t hurt either: in place of festive cheer and celebrations there’s deaths and secrets being dragged up.

As this is part of a series – though would certainly work just as brilliantly as a stand alone – I’ll restrain myself from dropping any spoilers.

Having translated some fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic before embarking on his own writing career, Ragnar Jónasson was no stranger to the genre but while I’m sure there will be comparisons drawn (I’ve never read a Christie novel but am familiar enough with the style, certainly thanks to the numerous television adaptations), it’s Jónasson’s skill as a writer that makes the Dark Iceland series so addictive. With Whiteout he expertly weaves a deep and intricatly plotted mystery  that’s genuinely compelling with calm and deliberate pacing that slowly builds to a dramatic reveal. That he does this against the challenges of both the closed setting and ticking clock without making it feel rushed is even more impressive.

One of the other compelling aspects of the Dark Iceland series has been the life and development of Ari Thór. While the pacing and time pressure of the main narrative of Whiteout don’t necessarily allow for too much insight into Ari, what there is still enough to ensure the reader remains plenty interested in this Icelandic copper and most certainly lays the groundwork for some revelations to come.

In a way, the location and focus of Whiteout make it an unusual instalment in the Dark Iceland series though Ragnar Jónasson’s skill as a writer ensures it remains an essential one.

Thanks to  Orenda Books and Anne Cater for my copy and inviting me to take part in this blogtour.

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.

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Nothing Ever Happens Around Here

Careful; the smallest whiff of a spoiler is contained fleetingly herein.

Iceland.

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago what I associate with that country I’d have suggested a few bands like Sigur Rós, múm, Of Monsters and Men, Olafur Arnalds and that woman called Björk , Reykjavik 101, unpronounceable (by me) volcanoes and geysers. Oh, and the chap who sang “Ég á líf” at Eurovision a couple of years ago.

If you ask me the same question today I’ll add fjords, the herring boom, and great Nordic crime fiction to that list.

For in the last week I had the utmost pleasure of reading Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson.

The fist novel in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series – almost up to its sixth installment in Iceland – has now been translated into and published in English by Orenda Books.IMG_4357

Snowblind introduces us to Ari Thor Arason – finishing his police training (after starting and dropping other pursuits including Theology) on-the-job having spontaneously accepted a posting in the northern town of Siglufjörður. It’s a posting that takes him hundreds of kilometres away from his home, his partner and his comfort zone. Plunging him into a small town where things aren’t quite as tranquil as they seem and a killer is on the loose.

Quiet and remote, Siglufjörður is a small fishing town only accessible via perilous mountain roads and a small tunnel seemingly carved out of the rock without a millimetre of excess width for as Ari Thor takes his first journey through the sense of a trap being sealed begins to sneak in – “it was a narrow single track…. carved through the mountainside more than forty years ago” with water dripping in the darkness from a ceiling unseen. Even on the other side the weather is starting to turn grim and oppressive (“every winter is a heavy winter in Siglufjörður”).

Still, what could go wrong?  Siglufjörður is an idyllic little community set amongst the mountains and fjord where – according to Police Inspector Tomas “nothing ever happens”.

Nothing that is except murders, manslaughter, literary theft, adultery, fugitives in hiding, drunk locals stumbling into the wrong house at night and seemingly not a character in the story without a history of loss and tragedy and, of course, the politics of local am-dram.

Having visited such small towns at the foot of a fjord (albeit in Norway not Iceland) in summer when the majesty of the scenery will steal your breath, I often wondered how different those imposing mountains would be when winter sets in and the calm of such detached living is replaced by a sense of being cut-off and encircled by thousands of metres of impenetrable nature. I need wonder no more; Ragnar Jónasson perfectly creates an atmosphere of dense, stifling claustrophobia, an impenetrable trap tightening with every falling flake, using geology to form a locked-room style setting with the imposing mountains and heavy snow falling in like a heavy, stifling blanket:

Claustrophobia had sneaked up on him, a feeling that had deepened as the snowfall around the station had become increasingly heavy. It was as if the weather gods were trying to construct a wall around the building that he would never be able to break through. He saw things around him grow dim and suddenly he found himself fighting for his breath.

 

Siglufjörður beset by snow

Siglufjörður beset by snow

The fact that Ari Thor – like the reader – is the only one not used to such environs deftly adds to the fish-out-of-water feeling, almost a “am I the only sane person here?” element adding to the tension.

Just as the winter snow falls gently at first but builds, the plot unfolds slowly; each of the character arcs expanding at their own pace, gently but intractably linking to each other and interspersed with snippets of a knife-point burglary so obviously doomed to a bad end that no matter how tranquil that which follows may be, a sense of foreboding and danger pervades.

For a debut novel, Snowblind is startlingly confident and sure-footed. The characters and dialogue all ring true, the plot is original and packed with plenty a surprise. Perhaps most pleasingly of all, Jónasson steers clear of hackneyed plot devices and reveals; while Ari Thor possess a talent for his work he’s no ‘instant wonder / super cop’ – in fact his inexperience lands him in a very dangerous position as he enthusiastically blunders into a confrontation with a killer, preventing any real chance of justice being served and only solves the novels main “who dunnit” by chance.

It’s clear that Ari Thor is a character that has plenty of space and potential to grow and that the sequel is currently in-translation by Quentin Bates (who deserves very positive praise for his translation of Snowblind) can only be considered great news. The first sliver of NightBlind is enough to have me hooked while confirming that Ragnar Jónasson is a writer with plenty more up his sleeve.

From it’s opening prelude, Snowblind steps back a couple of months to put the pieces in place, then assuredly and calmly expands into a compelling thriller that keeps you gripped throughout and delivers a final 1-2-3 punch of revelations that will leave your gob on the floor.

Get a hold of a copy today and check out the other stops on the blog tour.

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