SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jónasson
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
THE VERDICT: read
Sweeping Nordic landscapes, snowstorm-induced claustrophobia, and a cast of characters reminiscent of Agatha Christie: Ragnar Jónasson's debut mystery meets all my requirements for a moody, engrossing Nordic Nordic noir read. I have been waiting to read Ragnar's Dark Iceland series for ages now, and my first foray into this rising star's works exceeded my expectations, and as a bonus, now has me itching to visit Iceland and explore Siglufjordur! Thanks to Ragnar for sending me so many gorgeous pictures of his hometown—I hope you'll enjoy the photos interspersed throughout this review!
In SNOWBLIND, readers are introduced to Ari Thor Arason, a young man training to become a police officer in Reykjavik. When Ari Thor is offered a post at a police station in the far-north town of Siglufjordur, he accepts, with no idea of the darkness that will soon envelop him there. His new home is billed as a town where "nothing ever happens," but Ari Thor soon learns that is far from the truth. A stranger in a close-knit community, Ari Thor finds himself at odds with residents suspicious of his newcomer status, yet whose help he desperately needs to do his job. When a woman is found lying on the brink of death in the snow, Ari Thor quickly realizes his new position is going to be nothing like he expected.
There are truly so many qualities that make Ragnar's debut a standout, but the very first one that stood out to me was the atmospheric, moody quality of his writing. While reading SNOWBLIND, I felt drawn to the landscape Ragnar describes. He paints a vivid picture of an isolated, remote town; his writing does justice to the desolate beauty of an Icelandic landscape.
As winter descends on the town, and days of complete darkness wrap themselves around Ari Thor, Ragnar heightens the sense of tension in the story to reflect his main character's unease. A snowstorm leads to an avalanche that traps the town's residents within the city limits, and a sense of claustrophobia begins to pervade the story. I found myself feeling anxious and antsy as I read descriptions of the mountains surrounding the town seeming to press down on Ari Thor in his mind.
This same claustrophobia, and the inability of the town's residents to leave during the snowstorm, set the stage for an incredibly cool take on a classic mystery structure: the "locked room mystery." When a woman is found on the brink of death, and an old man has a fatal accident, Ari Thor becomes convinced that the two tragedies are no coincidence. Thanks to the avalanche, no one has been coming in or going out of their town; all of Ari Thor's suspects are essentially trapped in a "locked room," or in this case, a snowbound town. In my Q&A with Ragnar (which you can read here), he mentioned being a reader of Agatha Christie novels—I felt very strongly that the influence of Christie's writing can be seen throughout SNOWBLIND, and nowhere is it more evident than in Ragnar's unique take on the "locked room mystery."
SNOWBLIND was my first Icelandic crime fiction read, and it has made me both an instant fan of Ragnar, and incredibly excited to read more crime fiction from Iceland. I completely fell in love with the landscape Ragnar so deftly describes, and I was equally drawn in by his ability as a storyteller. A huge congratulations is also in order to both Ragnar and his publisher, Orenda Books, as Dark Iceland has been optioned for TV! A very well-deserved accolade for a fresh and talented voice on the crime fiction scene.
U.S. Readers: I've gotten lots of questions about where to purchase SNOWBLIND. It's not out in the States yet, but check out Book Depository for a copy!
Thank you to Orenda Books for providing me with a review copy of SNOWBLIND.