THE ISLAND by Ragnar Jonasson
(Hulda Hermannsdottir Series, Book 2)
Minotaur Books; 5/21/19
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: stylish, gripping suspense
It’s getting hard to think of new ways to say how much I love Ragnar Jonasson’s crime novels, but allow me to try once more. Just when I think Jonasson has surely written what will be my forever favorite book of his, he goes and outdoes himself yet again—and that’s exactly what’s happened here. I absolutely loved Jonasson’s 2018 release THE DARKNESS, the launch of his new trilogy featuring Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir, and I can now decidedly say that I loved the second trilogy installment, THE ISLAND, even more. In THE ISLAND, Jonasson ratchets up the tension and bone-chilling atmosphere of this Icelandic mystery trilogy—and the result is a downright unputdownable crime novel that captivates as much with its spine-tingling suspense as it does with its clever plotting. Jonasson has a knack for writing crime fiction that blends the old with the new seamlessly, and his skill is on full display in THE ISLAND. Weaving together a years-old crime with a present-day “locked room mystery”, Jonasson masterfully crafts a complex story that is hugely readable and entertaining. And let’s not forget this trilogy’s fantastic protagonist, Hulda; any excuse to spend more time with this spirited and down-to-earth character is one I’ll jump at. It’s worth reading THE DARKNESS (Book 1 in the Hulda trilogy) before THE ISLAND, but don’t let that two-book commitment put you off: these books are well worth your time. Inventive and original, atmospheric and chilling, THE ISLAND is another stellar release from one of Iceland’s foremost crime writers.
Autumn of 1987 takes a young couple on a romantic trip in the Westfjords holiday―a trip that gets an unexpected ending and has catastrophic consequences.
Ten years later a small group of friends go for a weekend in an old hunting lodge in Elliðaey. A place completely cut off from the outside world, to reconnect. But one of them isn't going to make it out alive. And Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is determined to find the truth in the darkness.
Ragnar Jonasson burst onto the American scene with Snowblind and Nightblind, the first two novels in the Ari Thor thriller series, and the praise was overwhelming. With The Darkness, he launched a new series featuring a completely new sleuth, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir of the Reykjavik Police department. The Island is the second book in this series.
Some series you can easily dip in to at any given point; the Hulda Hermannsdottir series is not one of these. Jonasson has chosen to structure his trilogy in a very unusual way, and it’s one that makes it highly inadvisable to start anywhere other than the very beginning. The Hulda Hermannsdottir trilogy is told in reverse chronological order; Book 1 in the trilogy, THE DARKNESS, introduces readers to Hulda at the very end of her career with the Reykjavik police. In Book 2, THE ISLAND, we find Hulda in the middle of her career, seeking a promotion and grappling with the not-so-subtle misogyny of her male colleagues. If this structure for a trilogy sounds overly ambitious, not to worry: it is an ambitious structure, but it’s one that Jonasson handles masterfully. Through the trilogy’s unusual chronology, readers are given the opportunity to learn about a character in a totally new and fresh way. The Hulda we meet in THE DARKNESS is the sum of a lifetime of experiences, and in THE ISLAND, we begin to witness those experiences as they happen. It’s a truly fascinating way of learning about a character - almost like viewing a completed puzzle and then taking it apart to better understand how the puzzle pieces fit together. I already can’t wait to see what elements of Hulda’s character will be revealed in the final trilogy installment.
At the heart of THE ISLAND are two compelling mysteries woven together to create an unputdownable, cohesive crime story. In the 1980’s, readers follow a young couple whose romantic getaway to a remote cabin in the Icelandic Westfjords ends in catastrophe. Ten years later, in the story’s “present” timeline, a group of friends travel to the remote island of Ellidaey for a reunion. Against the beautiful, barren backdrop of this utterly uninhabited island, the group revisits past events that bound them all together - and long-held secrets begin to surface. When this reunion ends in tragedy, suspicion falls among the group; after all, the friends were the only people on the island. Who among them betrayed the others? Jonasson is known around the world for his Agatha Christie-inspired plots, and THE ISLAND relies heavily on the “locked room mystery” concept often associated with Christie’s And Then There Were None—but Jonasson makes it his own in THE ISLAND. Fans of Christie’s work will feel right at home in Jonasson’s latest release; fans of Nordic Noir will similarly find the atmosphere Jonasson develops in THE ISLAND right up their alley. True to the Scandinavian crime genre, atmosphere and sense of place are integral here, and the island of Ellidaey - the site of much of this story’s action - proves itself the ideal backdrop for a mystery. Better yet, Ellidaey is a real island, and it really is as remote as it is appears to be in Jonasson’s fiction. There’s something utterly compelling about a place like this; a small island with only one house on it, a place not regularly inhabited by humans, that can only be reached by boat. You couldn’t ask for a better locale for a crime story, and Jonasson takes full advantage of this location, its atmosphere, and the claustrophobic storytelling it can inspire in THE ISLAND.
Perhaps the greatest joy of reading THE ISLAND, though, is witnessing the masterful way author Jonasson ties the novel’s seemingly disparate plotlines together. With story threads including (but not limited to) Hulda’s investigation into the tragedy on Ellidaey, a decade-old mystery surrounding a shocking event in the Westfjords, a family marked by tragedy, and the inner workings of a group of old friends whose reunion goes awry, THE ISLAND is nothing if not a complicated story. There were times when I sincerely wondered how on earth these threads would come together (I’ll freely admit, there were a couple times I had to go back and re-read passages to be sure I was keeping the stories straight in my own head!), but Jonasson never lets this story’s complexity get away from him. The farther you read into the book, the more gripped you will be by the tantalizing way Jonasson slowly but surely reveals the plotlines’ intersections. It’s incredibly difficult to discuss these intersections without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say, when they are finally revealed, the results are jaw-dropping and hugely satisfying. Jonasson has proven himself once more to be a master of the kind of clever, unfussy-yet-shocking plotting that defines the legacy of Agatha Christie.
Sense of place, chilling suspense, intricate plotting—Ragnar Jonasson’s THE ISLAND has it all. Jonasson ups the ante in his latest release, infusing his newest crime novel with a dark atmosphere, breathless suspense, and a masterfully crafted plot. I wasn’t sure he could top the stellar launch of this trilogy, THE DARKNESS, but I’m very happy to be proven wrong, because top it he has. It seems that every time I review the newest release by this author, I claim to have found my new favorite book he has written… and I’m not breaking that tradition just yet. THE ISLAND is an impeccable, stylish crime novel—genuinely original and impossible to put down.
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.
Series: The Hulda Series (Book 2)
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books (May 21, 2019)
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