Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from the extraordinary new talent Ragnar Jonasson (available January 31, 2017).
Ari Thor Arason is about to finish his police training—the first study he’s completed after abandoning both philosophy and theology. He is offered a position as a policeman in a small town in northern Iceland, far away from Reykjavik and his girlfriend Kristin. She is not thrilled that he accepted the job without consulting her and refuses to put her medical training on hold to go with him. So, Ari Thor starts this new chapter with a lot of doubt about his decision—especially when his new boss, Tomas, tells him nothing ever happens in Siglufjörður.
There weren’t many people to be seen and there was little traffic. It was approaching midday; Ari Thor expected there to be more activity during the lunch hour.
“Very quite here,” he said to break the silence. “I suppose the financial crash is going to affect you up here just the same as the rest of us?”
“Crash? There’s nothing like that here. The crash belongs in Reykjavik and it won’t stretch up north. We’re too far away,” Tomas said as they drove into the square in the centre of town. “We missed out on the boom years up here in Siglufjörður, so the crash doesn’t worry us either.”
“Same here,” Ari Thor said. “There weren’t many boom years for students.”
“If there’s a recession here, it comes from the sea,” Tomas continued. “This place hummed with activity in the old days, before the herring disappeared. There aren’t that many people here these days, something like twelve or thirteen hundred.”
“Not many speeding tickets here, I suppose? There don’t seem to be many cars.”
“Listen here,” Tomas said solemnly, his voice becoming grave. “This job isn’t about handing out tickets. Quite the opposite. This is a small community and we’re more than the local coppers. It’s more about handing out as few tickets as you can! You’ll find out soon enough that we work very differently from down south. It’s a tight knit community. Don’t worry, you’ll learn.”
A friend of mine refuses to read books set in places like Iceland, Finland, or Norway. She says they are always depressing. I don’t necessarily agree with her, although many do portray the long dark winters as oppressive.
But Ragnar Jonasson takes it a step further here. Ari Thor suffers from bouts of claustrophobia, many during heavy snow storms. And, as Tomas informs him on his first day, every winter is a heavy winter in Siglufjörður. The cold is almost palpable, reflected by the personalities of many of the townsfolk. Like many small towns in America, if you weren’t born there, you are always an outsider.
There is a second storyline involving an unnamed woman. We don’t know if she’s in Reykjavik, Siglufjörður, or elsewhere. All we do know is that she is in danger:
Her initial reaction wasn’t fear, but anger that she hadn’t realized something was wrong, that someone was standing there behind her in the dark. Then fear overwhelmed her.
He shoved her hard against the door, a hand coming from behind to cover her mouth, turning the key in the lock with other. The door opened and as he pushed her through the doorway she almost lost her balance; his hand still clamped hard over her mouth. The shock was so paralyzing that she wasn’t sure she had the strength to yell, call for help, even if he did relax his grip. He closed the door carefully and the next few seconds were a blur, as if she was in another world and she had lost the strength to resist.
Ari Thor slogs through shift after shift, beginning to believe that nothing does ever happen in the little town. Then, a prominent citizen dies falling down the stairs at the theater a day before the Dramatic Society’s big opening night. Tomas pronounces the death an accident, but Ari Thor isn’t so sure. Or maybe he is just hoping for a little more excitement, a chance to do some real police work.
Everyone at some time has felt like an outsider, and we have all questioned a choice made in haste. Ari Thor experiences both at once. He is a very sympathetic character, as are others in the book, but his situation felt the most real to me. There have been several times I’ve questioned a decision. And non-decisions can be crazy-making, as well.
There are missed opportunities all around. Miscommunication and missed communications complicate matters for several characters, building up to cause even more problems for everyone. By the end, I found myself hoping Jonasson plans more for Ari Thor. But maybe he can give him a little bit of break next time.
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Debbie Meldrum reads just about everything she can get her hands on. She was the short fiction editor for Apollo's Lyre and the Editor in Chief of the Pikes Peak Writers NewsMag. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel.
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