This is my review of Nightblind (Dark Iceland) by Ragnar Jonasson.
It seemed particularly relevant to read this on a trip to Iceland, having enjoyed “Snowblind”, the first in the “Dark Iceland Series” featuring the decent if at times impulsive young police officer Ari Thór who rashly accepts a post in the remote northern town of Siglufjördur, still economically depressed “since the herring disappeared”, where “the fact he was untainted by local tradition, gossip, small-town politics and old feuds was a strong point in his favour”. Town-bred, he fails “to understand what was so enchanting about loneliness, isolation and cold” and remains “puzzled by the attraction of skiing”.
“Nightblind” is set five years later, that is after the financial crisis which shook Iceland, with Ari Thór, now father of a small boy, communications with his partner Kristin still troubled, partly because of his reticence over his father’s disappearance when he was young. Ari Thór is soon embroiled in investigating the shooting of his new boss, Inspector Herjóldur, who seems to have “pulled strings” to gain the promotion for which Ari Thór also applired. The gun crime is sufficiently grave to make not just national but Nordic news in general, attacks on the police being so rare in Iceland. An intriguing parallel theme cuts continually into the main storyline in the form of extracts from a journal written some thirty years previously. A patient in a psychiatric ward, the author’s identity and relevance to the crime are kept a mystery until near the end.
Like the first novel, this is meticulous in its plotting, a page turner which avoids being formulaic, but with an occasionally clunky style, particularly in the dialogue, which may be the fault of the translator rather than the author himself.
Given an authentic note by his lawyer’s training and experience, Ragnar Jonasson creates a strong sense of atmosphere with descriptions of the snow and “all-enveloping darkness” of winter in contrast to the “dazzlingly bright days” of the brief summer. Yet he seems much more interested in psychology, exploring people’s characters, often complex, shifting emotions and what makes them tick. He conveys a sense of Icelandic attitudes and values: a kind of pragmatic liberalism, underlain by darker threads of corruption and male domestic violence. He creates an impression of life in Iceland through continual images and vignettes: the depressing effect on the town mayor of the October rain, the rented property in the shadow of the town’s avalanche defences; the abandoned house with a tragic history, now the haunt of drug dealers, located near the mouth of the tunnel which connects Siglufjördur with the outside world, easing the sense of claustrophobia by making it “almost impossible to be snowbound any longer”.
I shall certainly read the third novel “Blackout”, although I am disappointed that it is set in time immediately after “Snowblind”, when I prefer to read novels in sequence to see how the recurring characters progress.