Book Reviewer Kristopher Zgorski is an avid reader devoted to crime fiction who presently works as a Production Coordinator for Johns Hopkins University Press located in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and is also the founder of the mystery and crime fiction book review blog BOLO Books (http://www.bolobooks.com).
Translated to English by Quentin Bates, Snowblind is certain to be the start of a long career for Ragnar Jo´nasson. In fact, the Dark Iceland series already totals five novels in its native language and the second English title, Nightblind, will be released next year.
Snowblind is probably about as strong a debut as we can expect to see this season. Ragnar Jo´nasson uses the tropes of the traditional mystery, but because of the Icelandic setting, Snowblind feels very modern and relevant. This is a book that will appeal to the staunchest supporter of Dame Agatha Christie as well as fans of the darker Scandinavian crime fiction reaching our shores over the last few years. This may seem like a dichotomous pairing, but it is a testament to Jo´nasson talent that his appeal is so widespread.
In Ari Tho´r Arason, Jo´nasson has created a series character readers are going to immediately bond with. Ari has enough foibles to keep the series running for multiple volumes even before you throw in the murders he stumbles upon as a result of his new job as policeman in the isolated location of Siglurfjo¨rdur. His personal life is in a state of flux and every option leads to new hurdles. Throwing himself into his new job seems the best choice for Ari Tho´r at this point.
In Snowblind, the central mystery involves a well-known Icelandic writer who falls to his death down a flight of stairs at the local theater. While investigating this possible homicide, Ari Tho´r and his mentor must also deal with the discovery of a half-naked woman found injured and exposed in the snowy landscape. As readers will expect from a traditional mystery, the pool of suspects for each case will be quite small, but also full of secrets and hidden agendas.
Similar to the way that Ann Cleeves has positioned the Shetland Islands and Louise Penny has created Three Pines, the Icelandic setting Jo´nasson presents becomes as important as the people with which he populates it. Twenty-four hour darkness imbues the whole reading experience with a sense of menace and claustrophobia. Just as Ari Tho´r feels a tightening in his chest with every breath and startles with each unknown noise, readers will experience echoes of his emotional and mental state as they turn the pages. The short chapters and abbreviated length keep progress quick and give readers a false sense of simplicity surrounding the proceedings. As it turns out, there is nothing simple about Jo´nasson’s Iceland.
The mystery itself is a complex one with strands that reach back into the past, even as the current day financial crisis of the country influences the actions of all involved. Ari Tho´r is very much an outsider and this only further enhances the reader’s relationship with him. The choices he makes in Snowblind are certainly going to influence his standing in the community moving forward. While the main questions are answered by the end, Jo´nasson leaves enough loose ends to keep readers wondering about future volumes of his story.
If the rest of the Dark Iceland series is as accomplished as Snowblind, Ragnar Jo´nasson’s name is poised to become as common place as that of Stieg Larsson’s. Don’t be fooled into thinking Jo´nasson is a mere imitation, however. By deconstructing the Golden Age traditional mystery within a foreign setting, Ragnar Jo´nasson has practically created his own genre. For lack of a better term, let’s call this Cozy Noir.
Review first appeared at The BOLO Books Review website. Reprinted here courtesy of the owner.