Review: SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jonasson

I was not surprised to learn, after I’d finished reading SNOWBLIND, that its author has previously translated some of Agatha Christie’s works into his native Icelandic. Because there’s much more of a ‘Golden Age’ or classic whodunnit sensibility to the book than anything resembling the now ubiquitous (and almost always inaccurate) Nordic Noir label.

Depending on which way you look at things the central character is either rookie policeman Ari Thor or the isolated fishing village of Siglufjordur in northern Iceland in which the story takes place.

When the novel opens Ari Thor is living in Reykjavik with his girlfriend, medical student Kristin. He has ditched his own study of theology for the police academy and is offered his first police job in Siglufjordur. He says yes without consulting Kristin at all which is a decision that will come back to bite him (although he never does seem to grasp why discussing it first might have been a good idea) and is soon heading north. Ari Thor is 24 and not unreasonably has yet to work out all the intricacies of being an adult which is a nice change for crime fiction fans who are more used to crotchety, middle aged cynics. Jonasson has done a nice job in fleshing out this character over the course of the book and making him sympathetic even when he deserves a gentle bollocking for his recklessness.

The village is much less sympathetic, at least to this city girl, though no less beautifully realised. Its population is around 1300 people and is one of those places where everyone knows everyone and their secrets. Though, as it turns out, not all their secrets. It is small enough that no car is needed to get around and isolated enough that it is regularly cut off from the rest of the country during winter. Ari Thor is informed by his new boss that he won’t be handing out speeding tickets or doing much else that city police might be used to but soon there are mysterious matters to worry about. As the local dramatic society gets ready for their annual performance a local celebrity dies and Ari Thor at least is not entirely sure it was as natural a death as everyone assumes. When a young woman is found lying near death in the snow a few days later everyone starts to worry that someone with nefarious intent might be on the loose. Which is, of course, right when the Icelandic winter does shuts the town off from the outside world. The mountains are looming, the roads are impassable roads and the townsfolk might be trapped with a killer.

The story really is of the old-fashioned kind (and just to be clear I don’t mean that as a criticism). Not only is it blessedly short in this age of 500+ page tomes it is light on violence and heavy on intricate, genuinely puzzling plot full of misdirection. This is not axe-wielding psychopath territory, just ordinary people finding themselves backed into various corners. I found the resolution both satisfying and surprising which is no mean feat.

Although I’d gnaw off my own arm rather than live in somewhere quite so small or isolated  as Siglufjordur I love to visit such places vicariously, especially when there is a genuinely engaging story unfolding within the claustrophobic confines. I am keen to catch up with Ari Thor again, though I think he’ll have to move on from Siglufjordur if he is not to suffer from the Cabot Cove Effect.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Quentin Bates
Publisher Orenda Books, this translation 2015, original language edition 2010
ISBN 9781910633038
Length 259 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 Dark Iceland series
Source of review copy Borrowed (library)

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8 Responses to Review: SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jonasson

  1. rkottery says:

    A Golden-Age sensibility, light on violence and heavy on puzzlement and intricacy? And in Iceland?Sign me up!
    I love the sound of this one, with a non-world weary central character with potential for growth and an appealing location. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad you enjoyed this one, Bernadette. I don’t think I’d want to live in quite as isolated a place, either, but when it’s well-depicted, it can be so effective. I can see why you think of the place as a character in itself. And you’re right; it’s nice to see a fictional young adult who acts like one, if that makes sense…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kathy D. says:

    Sounds very good from your review. I, too, wouldn’t want to live in this type of small, insular village, isolated from cities and people. I went to college in such a town. It was beautiful, surrounded by greenery and mountains.
    But I’m a city person and I could not have lived there year-round. Would have had to import people, traffic, noise, libraries, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I lived for about a year in a small (population around 2000), semi-rural place Kathy and it nearly sent me mad. I was only about a 2 hour drive from a big-ish city but I didn’t have a car then and public transport was slow and very unreliable. The thing I hated most was never being invisible – thinking that everyone would be talking about what I was buying in the chemist or whatever – they probably weren’t but it was what I imagined. Also missed the noise and bustle of the city. And that was without the awful weather that is depicted in this book.


  4. Kathy D. says:

    I walk out my front door and people are walking up and down the sidewalk. Even when I go out late to get chocolate snacks, people are out walking their dogs.
    And people from around the world are walking down the main streets.
    I’ve been watching a series based on Ann Cleeves’ books, set on the Shetland Islands off Scotland. One island where an investigation took place had 70 people! And there were affairs.
    I wondered how does one escape an affair or get over one? How does an abused spouse get away, hide? No one has privacy or a place to retreat to.
    I couldn’t do it although it’s beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds like we live in similar kinds of areas Kathy, there are always people out and about where I live too. When I lived in the small place I hated that everyone knew all my business – not that I was doing anything scandalous but even so…I remember once early on the seller at the small grocery shop telling me everything the lady before me had just bought and I realised she would probably soon be telling someone what I’d bought and I knew I wouldn’t be staying for long.


  6. Anonymous says:

    That doesn’t exactly happen here, but people in my apartment building do talk about others. One is anonymous here. I keep my life private mostly, not that it’s interesting. Not really. Who cares about what I’m reading or watching on movie dvd’s — except one neighbor. We swap book and dvd ideas.
    And I get to pet all of the dogs without having to take care of one, and also to pet the dogs on my block.


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