WHITEOUT by Ragnar Jonasson
Orenda Books; 11/1/17 (UK)
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: atmospheric, classic mystery for the holidays
It’s hard to imagine an author whose work can genuinely be called an heir to Agatha Christie, but Iceland’s Ragnar Jonasson might be modern crime fiction’s strongest contender. In Jonasson’s newest Dark Iceland series installment, WHITEOUT, readers are treated to a Christmas-themed mystery that delivers all the atmosphere, intrigue, and charm that has made this series so popular. Jonasson’s books are not “cozy mysteries,” but they are the perfect choice for a cozy autumn or winter afternoon spent reading, and WHITEOUT is perfectly timed to the approaching holiday season. Readers of Agatha Christie will love the distinctly classic crime style of Jonasson’s writing, and will also be drawn to WHITEOUT for its quasi-“locked room mystery” structure—in this case, the “locked room” being a very small, very isolated little community in rural Iceland. Grab a cozy sweater and a cup of coffee and prepare to be drawn into Jonasson’s immersive and endearing mystery series.
Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of the deserted village of Kalfshamarvik. Did she jump, or did something more sinister take place beneath the lighthouse and the abandoned old house on the remote rocky outcrop? With winter closing in and the snow falling relentlessly, Ari Thor Arason discovers that the victim's mother and young sister also lost their lives in this same spot, twenty-five years earlier...
When I’m reading a book, I absolutely love being transported to a different country—bonus points if that book can take me to Scandinavia, my favorite part of the world. It’s no coincidence then that I’ve sought out authors like Ragnar Jonasson to introduce me to places in Scandinavia that I haven’t yet been able to travel myself through their books. I could imagine no better guide than the Dark Iceland series. (It’s also worth noting: Yrsa Sigurdardottir is another absolutely brilliant Icelandic crime writer, but more on her books coming to CBTB soon!) One of the most striking strengths of Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series is its ability to illustrate for the reader the stunning, sometimes quite stark beauty of Jonasson’s native Iceland. Every single book in the Dark Iceland series delivers unique yet equally vivid descriptions of Iceland, ranging in location from Reykjavik to Siglufjordur and more. In WHITEOUT, series lead Ari Thor is called to another small community in Iceland to assist in investigating a tragic – and possibly suspicious – death. This little community (which basically consists of just a couple houses) sits right near the water, and has a lighthouse that looks out over the cliffs. There are no illustrations in this book, but there might as well be—that’s how vivid and enchanting Jonasson’s descriptions of the landscape are. WHITEOUT is a compelling mystery, but even non-mystery readers will love Jonasson’s writing for the sheer beauty of the landscape it portrays.
But, of course, crime fiction readers will also love the mystery central to WHITEOUT. If you are a reader who loves classic crime fiction, I would highly encourage you to dig into the Dark Iceland series – Book 1 is SNOWBLIND, though I do believe you could sample WHITEOUT as a standalone as well! While all of Jonasson’s books certainly draw from a tradition inspired by Agatha Christie (Ragnar actually has translated many Agatha Christie books into Icelandic – but that’s a story for another time!), WHITEOUT felt, to me, to be one of the most classic crime-inspired plots of the series. I absolutely loved this take on the “locked room mystery.” In WHITEOUT, the tragic death of a young woman leads police officer Ari Thor down a maze of family secrets. The family in question lives in a very remote part of Iceland, and the suspect pool for the alleged crime at the heart of this book is extremely limited. I love this kind of setup, where readers are introduced to a limited cast of characters, and know that one of these individuals must have committed the crime in question. WHITEOUT delivers a fantastic – and wholly successful – take on the “locked room mystery.” Jonasson’s books are not nearly as dark or violent as many of their Nordic peers; Jonasson prefers instead to develop tension and suspense through slow-building revelations and plot developments. WHITEOUT is an example of how a “slow but steady” mystery can deliver chills and urgency while staying true to its own style.
On that note, it is important to highlight the ways that Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series is different from other Nordic Noir reads. Nordic Noir has a (rightfully deserved) reputation for being dark, gritty, and often quite violent; the Dark Iceland books certainly have a touch of darkness to them, but they feel much less in line with this tradition of Nordic Noir. The Dark Iceland books are richly atmospheric, but they are not deeply disturbing or twisted books. Instead, these books feel much more in line with the tradition of classic crime fiction. The absolute best comparison I could make to Jonasson’s work would be to compare it to Agatha Christie—and trust me, I know what high praise that is, but Jonasson’s series has earned it. I am personally so impressed with Jonasson’s ability to draw such committed fans with a style that is, in many ways, less “flashy” than other modern crime titles. These books are old school mysteries in the best sense of the phrase, and I highly recommend them for readers looking for slow-burning, engrossing mysteries to sink into.
WHITEOUT is an excellent installment in an already fantastic series. My personal favorite book in this series remains BLACKOUT, but WHITEOUT has now taken second place for me! There is something comforting about settling into a new Jonasson mystery, and WHITEOUT was no exception. I loved this book’s vivid descriptions of rural Iceland, and I found myself completely wrapped up in the “locked room mystery” this book delivers. When I imagine mysteries meant to be read during holiday vacation, perhaps cozied up under a blanket or sitting by the fireplace, WHITEOUT is exactly the kind of mystery that pops into my head. Fans of the Dark Iceland series and fans of classic crime alike will find WHITEOUT a wonderful addition to their holiday reading list.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Book Details - UK:
US details to come!
Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Orenda (1 Nov. 2017)