“Rupture” by Ragnar Jónasson: Icelandic Christie

 

This is my review of Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson.

This is the fourth novel to be published in the “Dark Iceland” series featuring young detective Ari Thor, newcomer to the somewhat remote town of Siglufjörður in northern Iceland. Chronologically, it should be read after the first novel, “Snowblind” in which the hero Ari is introduced as a novice detective, but before the fourth one, “Nightblind”, in which he has become a father.

I was drawn to the series because a recent visit to Iceland had given me some first-hand knowledge of the country, and the author Ragnar Jónasson captures its atmosphere and character. The long, dark winters, brief bright summers, bleak beauty of the wild landscape, isolation of rural communities, the fact that, however modern and sophisticated on the surface, many Icelanders are separated by only a generation or so from a hard life of self-sufficiency and folklore spun from living so close to the elements, all combine to provide an intriguing backdrop for at times pedestrian but generally well-plotted crime stories.

In Rupture, Ari is still living apart from his former girlfriend, although the two are clearly making progress in patching up their recent rift. When fear of a potentially deadly virus keeps the locals indoors and unlikely to commit fresh crimes for a while, Ari has time to focus on an old case which has resurfaced from the 1950s . Hedinn, a middle-aged man who spent his childhood in Héðinsfjörður, a beautiful but inaccessible valley, has begun to suspect that his young aunt Jorunn did not commit suicide when he was a baby, but may have been the victim of foul play, perhaps connected with a young man, a stranger who appears in some old family photographs. One senses the oppression in the idea of two sisters living with their husbands in this remote spot, trying to make a living out of farming in harsh conditions, with no road link to the outside world. Having come from the capital of Reykjavik in the south, Ari can still feel this, despite the recent construction of the main road which links the now abandoned fjord with civilisation.
Ari is assisted in his investigation by a Reykjavik journalist, herself involved in a parallel case involving Robert, a man with a troubled past who imagines his family is being stalked for reasons which he may know, but be reluctant to admit. How, if at all, does this link with the possible “hit and run” murder of a victim, former friend to the ambitious young Prime Minster who does not need this kind of negative publicity?

The denouement of the Héðinsfjörður case raises some interesting social issues, and could have made a powerful novella. The Reykjavik-based storyline, which does not directly involve Ari at all, has the ingredients for a separate novel altogether, rather than prove somewhat rushed and underdeveloped, almost like a “makeweight” to pad out the whole.

Although page-turners on a first reading, Jónasson’s plots soon fade in one’s mind. I like his exploration of psychology and motivation, but sometimes find the style too simplistic, perhaps because the translation is a bit wooden. Jónasson has devised a formula on the lines of “person found dead usually in remote spot and killer motivated by some psychological trauma”. This will keep some readers hooked ad infinitum but it has started to wear thin for me.

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