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
Length 259 pages
Book Series #1 Dark Iceland series
Source of review copy Borrowed (library)