Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates, trans.
Minotaur, August 2018
272 pages
ISBN: 1250171061

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you are a committed serialist (that is, one who resists reading a series out of order), you'd do well to avoid the Dark Iceland series, which is appearing higgledy-piggledy in English translation in the US. If I've got it right, BLACKOUT is the fourth to be issued in North America following WHITEOUT (#5), SNOWBLIND (#1), and RUPTURE (#3). Luckily, I long ago came to the conclusion that I would miss far too much if I insisted on strict order when it comes to series and you will too if it keeps you from reading BLACKOUT.

Ragnar Jónasson is an admirer of Agatha Christie (he has translated her into Icelandic) but despite the occasional cover blurb comparison, the small northern town of Siglufjöður, though village-like, is not a dark and icy St Mary Mead. These are police procedurals, but they take place in a country that experiences perhaps two murders a year, murders that rarely need solving since the killers are usually found sobbing over their victims. The opening chapter that describes a tourist finding a murdered man notes the shock that violent assault produces in a gentle rustic landscape. The police are closer to the population as a whole than is common in procedurals from the UK or the US - not as professionally separated, neither hated nor loved because of their jobs. Nevertheless, Iceland is not absolutely cut off from the rest of the world. The murder in this case is connected to sex-trafficking that reaches as far as Nepal.

Ari Thór is the young policeman whose career unfolds in the Dark Iceland series. He is not a confident person to begin with and he is distracted by troubles with his girlfriend, from whom he is separated. He does have issues, as they say, with self-control, but all in all he does try. Here he is racked by regret at having fractured his relationship with Krístin and his attempt to repair the breach proves almost fatal.

What is most attractive about this series, and especially about this entry, is the richness of the presentation of the characters. They are not simply interesting individuals; they exist in a close, intimate social surround that strikes me as uniquely Icelandic, at least in fiction. The cast in BLACKOUT is for the most part young, serious, and thoroughly convincing. Even the bad guy had a sense of social responsibility - he'd organized a charity concert to aid victims of the economic crash. Still there is that brooding melancholy that permeates the whole along with the guilt that arises out of a feeling of having failed one's friends and neighbours.

It is the police, rather than readers, who are in the dark about why the killing took place and who the killer is. There is a strong thread of suspense, however, over the fate of a possible second victim. And it takes both police and private citizens to effect a resolution.

The title may be a bit misleading, as BLACKOUT takes place in the summer, which in this northern town brings almost endless daylight. Further south, the capital has been subjected to what must be a disheartening darkness thanks to an ash cloud from a volcanic eruption, but so far, the north has been spared. It is in this sense that the book qualifies as Nordic noir - the recognition that things can go dark suddenly and probably will. Still, all ends on a positive note. Just as the winter darkness eventually cedes to a glorious sun-filled spring, the spirits of the characters may also brighten.

Sometimes, I think I should try to learn some Icelandic because I like so much of the crime fiction that comes from that tiny country. But happily, I don't have to as long as translators as accomplished as Quentin Bates are on the scene.

In the annals of Icelandic noir, Ragnar Jónasson is less pessimistic than Arnaldur Indriðason and less grisly than Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, but his books are very far from light-hearted romps through an exotic landscape. All in all, they are shaping up to be a serious and compelling body of work that rightly demands attention.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2018

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]