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by Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates, trans.
Minotaur, January 2019
245 pages
ISBN: 1250193354

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The jacket copy for the Arí Thor series never fails to mention Nordic noir and Agatha Christie, references that I find somewhat puzzling. While Ragnar Jónasson frequently is literally "noir" (consider the titles alone (SNOWBLIND, NIGHTBLIND, BLACKOUT) the reference is more to the challenges imposed by a difficult climate rather than to an existential outlook. As to Christie, while it is true that Ragnar is an admirer and translator of her work, his is far less artificial than Dame Agatha's. RUPTURE, however, it must be said, does call upon some of the classic Christie tropes.

There are two mysteries in RUPTURE. The first is a very cold case indeed. Arí is at loose ends as the town he polices is under quarantine due to the death of a traveller from something resembling Ebola, followed by that of a nurse who treated him. Thus people are staying home out of harm's way and crime is even less frequent than usual. When Hédinn asks him to look into something that had happened in an isolated bit of far northern Iceland fifty years previously, Arí has the time to investigate.

The second crime occurs after the quarantine is lifted and is unusual in Iceland. A baby has been snatched from his pram outside a shop while his mother is inside. Parking babies this way is commonplace in Iceland, evidently, so the event is especially shocking.

Arí is helped out in his investigations by Ísrún, a journalist who is herself suffering from an unidentified but possibly devastating disease. She is more strongly motivated than Arí, both because she is unsure of what her prospects may be and because she is trying to make her way in her career even as a male colleague tries to block her.

The old case is a tricky one and the solution is revealed in true Christie fashion, with Arí calling together all of the principals in the case, including Hédinn who was not quite a year old at the time of the events, into one room and then proceeding to unravel his theory of what had happened so long ago. Arí discovers that he enjoys being the centre of attention as a teller of a tale, but at the end of it, is troubled to realize that his somewhat cold-blooded exposition of probable facts has had devastating emotional consequences on Hédinn. The second, modern, crime is dispatched rather more briskly and with the aid of conventional police procedures.

Ragnar is producing an engaging body of work, one that immerses the reader in the realities of Icelandic life away from the big city. It is time, however, that publicists stop talking about Christie. The strongest literary influence on Ragnar would seem to be his grandfather, Þ. Ragnar Jónasson, the author of many works drawing upon Icelandic folklore and story. The grandson is producing a strong and individual series, one that can stand firmly on its own two feet.

§ 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, January 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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