Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review of Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson (2015, Orenda Books; 2010 Icelandic)

Ari Thór Arason has dropped out of studying theology and philosophy and enrolled in police college. Living with his girlfriend in Reykjavik he accepts a post as a rookie police officer in the small, isolated town of Siglufjörður, 400 km away in northern Iceland. Nestled alongside a fjord, surrounded by mountains and accessible only via a single tunnel, it’s the kind of place where everyone knows everybody else and the crime rate is so low that doors are left unlocked. Ari Thór is very much the outsider and his girlfriend is unhappy with his move, but it’s a first job and step on the career ladder. When a famous author and chair of the local dramatics society is found dead at the foot of the stairs, it’s assumed by everyone that he’d fallen accidentally. Ari Thór thinks his colleagues should at least entertain the possibility of foul play.  Shortly afterwards a woman is found stabbed and half-naked in the snow. The most logical culprit – her abusive partner – has an alibi. With the town cut off through heavy snow and an avalanche, Ari Thór investigates both cases, ignoring the guidance from his boss.

Snow Blind has a touch of the golden age of crime meets Scandinavian police procedurals, which is perhaps reflective of the fact that Jónasson has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s tales into Icelandic. The tale focuses on the efforts of a rookie cop to solve two suspicious deaths, one of which appears to be an accident, the other murder. At the same time, he’s trying to deal with being isolated in a small town in northern Iceland, separated from his girlfriend, and treated as an outsider. Both deaths have classic setups. The first concerns the death of a famous author during a break in rehearsals at the dramatic society, found at the foot of the theatre stairs, with everyone claiming to be elsewhere at the time. The second is the stabbing of a local woman, the prime suspect with a cast-iron alibi. Jónasson spins the tale out at a sedate pace, concentrating as much on the character development of Ari Thór, the personalities of the theatre group, and the social relations and sense of place of the town as it does on the cases. The solution to one case is a little telegraphed, but the other has a nice twist to it. Overall, an engaging but not gripping story that’s the first in the Dark Iceland quartet of books.

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