Sunday, March 13, 2016
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
The peace of Siglufjörður, an idyllic fishing village in the north of Iceland, is shattered when a local policeman is gunned down in cold blood. Who has committed such an atrocity in such a peaceful place? It's up to local cop Ari Thór Arason, who has a tumultuous past, to navigate the secrets and politicking of the local community to discover the truth among the darkness.
Ragnar Jonasson's second mystery translated into English is an elegant and engaging tale that picks up a few years after his debut SNOWBLIND, with Ari Thór Arason having had several adventures in between. His roller-coaster relationship with his girlfriend Kristin is back on, in fact the couple have a baby son together. Not that domestic life is bliss - far from it, actually.
Ari Thór missed out on a promotion when his old mentor Tómas climbed the police ladder and moved south for a role in Reykjavik. Instead, it is Herjólfur who runs the show in their small town of Siglufjörður. So when Ari Thór is off sick with the flu, Herjólfur answers a call to a deserted house on the outskirts of town. Instead of discovering or stopping a crime, though, Herjólfur becomes one; he is caught full force by a shotgun blast in the darkness.
Was Herjólfur set up for ambush, or was it Ari Thór who was the intended target? Just what is going on in a country with so few murders, when a policeman is gunned down?
As media and politicians swirl, desperate for answers and progress, Ari Thór and Tómas struggle to find any leads at all. Will the perpetrator of this random act of violence escape justice? And just what is being hidden by the new mayor and his deputy, an out-of-towner with a mysterious past?
Ragnar Jonasson has crafted an exquisite tale that is as crisp and chilling as the snow and ice surrounding Siglufjörður. His prose is sleek, evocative without being verbose. The story glides along, fascinating and full of twists and turns. Ari Thór comes across as a very human, rounded character. He's a competent small-town cop, but no superhero. His life is both simple and complicated.
In a way, NIGHTBLIND harkens back to those 'violent crime in a peaceful setting' tropes of classic mystery fiction, or television programmes like Murder, She Wrote and Midsomer Murders. Siglufjörður is a small town unused to deadly violence, where connections run deep, known and secret. A less verdant Cabot Cove. But at the same time, there's a contemporary feel to Jonasson's storytelling - NIGHTBLIND feels more timeless, rather than old-fashioned.
Threaded throughout Ari Thór's investigation is the journal of a young man in psychiatric ward, and the tension is delicious as we wonder just how this young man fits into things. Who is he, why is he in the asylum, and rather importantly, when? Is he still there now?
Jonasson does a great job when it comes to drip-feeding information, building suspense and crafting a lovely plot, in among his nice touch for setting and character. Backstory is revealed organically, never through over-expository word-dumps in dialogue or description. Although NIGHTBLIND is a shorter novel compared to many nowadays, I never felt short-changed. It is a tale well-constructed and well-told, layering in plenty of character, theme, and social issues. Smooth but substantial.
Arnaldur Indridason may be the king of Icelandic noir and Yrsa Sigurdardottir the queen, but Jonasson shows with his series that he's a Crown Prince, more than ready to ascend the throne.
Craig Sisterson is a reviewer and features writer from New Zealand who writes for publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson