It is time for the second review of the month! I struggled a lot with this one and I dug quite deep into my vocabulary for synonyms of cold 🤣 Who knew one of the most-talked about, fantastic Orenda Books best-sellers would leave me short of words?
Title: Snowblind (Book 1 in the series)
Author: Ragnar Jónasson
Translator: Quentin Bates
Publisher: Orenda Books
Date of publication: 2015
Number of pages: 252
Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.
“I was blinded”, a review of the coldly brilliant debut by Ragnar Jónasson
I was blinded by the snow, slippery roads, heavy coat of winter, and the freezing temperature. Opening the book felt like opening your door and being swept away by a white storm. Everything sounded different. I do admit I had issues remembering names, especially cities’ ones. Thankfully the author took pity on me on Twitter and sent a pronunciation guide for … the city I cannot write the name of. But what I thought would be a distraction to the story in fact heightened my experience. I was out in a country I had no knowledge of. Literally. And here I was walking streets with enough information to allow me to see everything clearly but enough freedom to make those images mine too and let my mind take me to places I would never have imagined on my own. This book is a treasure of beautiful descriptions which make you shiver along with the characters while taking in the breathtaking views of a place that feels so foreign on the first page and so weirdly familiar on the last page. It envelops you in a blanket of claustrophobic uneasiness with a chilling hug. By the last page, I did not want it to release me.
I was blinded by the characters. Human beings, with a better resistance than me to the cold, but real people you meet at the bakery (if you are brave enough to go out with that weather!!!). I was amused by the enthusiasm around Ari Thor before meeting him. I wondered what made him so special and endearing to so many readers (you cannot always blame the ovaries for women’s love for a man in books.) Now that I spent some time with him, I understand. He is a guy who wants to do the right thing, he is a young man with principles and morals and good manners. He is a lost guy trying to find himself. I loved that he wasn’t sure of anything, that his status of newbie left him singled out and that only his willingness and determination helped him make room for himself in the police force.You cannot help warming to him, and not just to fight the cold the book puts you in! He is like many people his age, trying to figure out his place in the world, and making the best of what’s given to him. His decision at the beginning of the book to accept a job offer so far away was the moment I decided I wanted to follow him. I took the same decision once, leaving behind a very special someone, but knowing I had to do this for myself. From this point onward, I was 100% in. Far from any police officer cliché, Ari Thor is welcome fresh blood and a new favorite of mine, despite my rolling of eyes regarding the women in his life.
We are given impressions of every other character from Ari Thor, and that made things a lot more interesting in my opinion. The eyes of a foreigner are more likely to be sharp and offer you a portray that influences the way you see and react to the setting. Again, the foreign-sounding names had me reading twice or even three times to make sure I knew who was what, but that is just me being fed English names all the time.
The magic of Ragnar Jonasson’s writing is that he drowns you into a pool of Nordic population with no map and no way out, and what starts as scary and uncomfortable slowly turns into a world you get acquainted with, a world you discover the rules of, a world of people no so different after all, and suddenly you realize you’re swimming in their icy water and you’re not struggling as much, you just follow the flow and keep your head out of the water. My feelings mirrored Ari Thor’s with such intensity I was left afraid but eager to know what the next page would bring.
I was blinded by the realism, authenticity and real voice of the story. Never are we told anything directly in a forced way, feelings are shown, actions and words are interpreted, the whole book feels like watching a play, with every character ready to deliver the performance of their life. They all felt true, with their flaws, habits, motives and lives. Normal lives in a quiet place not so quiet when blood gets spilled. They are quite a fascinating lot, and I loved just how easy the writing made it to picture them.
Another thing I loved was the small community feeling associated with the remoteness of the place. The tiny snowflakes recovered houses and people, the building up of the thick coat of white reflecting the slow pace of the investigation. Just like Ari Thor, I was eager to act, to dig both in the snow and into the case, to get to the bottom of everything. It was a special feeling, as if time worked differently there, and it reinforced my feeling of a glass door between me and that town, despite my banging on it with a shovel to get in, I felt Ari Thor was in the same position. One step forward, two steps back. Even the tension felt frozen all along. Oh you are in for an oppressive and compelling investigation, and you find tension all the way, but it is tricky kind of tension. One that starts in the toes; something is wrong, then it attacks the legs; who can you trust? When the upper body goes numb; time to question everything and take the leap in search for the truth. And then all is exposed and the pieces of the puzzle fall into place in an astonishing silence.
The poetic writing transported me, the characters warmed me, the investigation made me feel alive. I loved it!
I would like to thank Quentin Bates for his fantastic and smooth translation of Snowblind which allows the book to reach a wider audience.
Chilling and raw, Snowblind introduces you to one of the most interesting main characters in crime fiction and throws you with him into a riveting police investigation that won’t leave you cold.
I received a copy of this book from the lovely Karen Sullivan. This review is my unbiased thanks to her and Ragnar Jónasson. Now I am relieved and happy that the second book in the series is already waiting for me on my nightstand and I’ll be back with Ari Thor very soon!
You can find the book online and in the best bookstores or on Orenda Books’ eBookstore
Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavik in 1976, and currently works as a lawyer, while teaching copyright law at the Reykjavik University Law School. In the past, he’s worked in TV and radio, including as a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before embarking on a writing career, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had several short stories published in German, English and Icelandic literary magazines. Ragnar set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) in Reykjavik, and is co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Iceland Noir, selected by the Guardian as one of the ‘best crime-writing festivals around the world’. Ragnar Jónasson has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, and he is currently working on his sixth. He lives in Reykjavik with his wife and two daughters. Nightblind will be published by Orenda Books in 2016.
You can find him on Twitter @ragnarjo