Book Review: The Island by Ragnar Jonasson
By Ray PalenMay 31, 2019
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.
The first two-thirds of Ragnar Jonasson’s The Island is a slow-moving, sometimes creepy, character study that gives us a deep understanding of the handful of characters involved in the plot. Ironically, police Detective Inspector Hulda, has very little to do with the first two-thirds of the novel and is seen only in brief glimpses. This is where author Jonasson catches the reader off guard because the last one-third of the story reads like a whirlwind with D.I. Hulda firmly at the wheel of the murder investigation.
The prologue begins in 1988 and the setting is Kopavogur, Iceland. Just reading the location for this novel immediately makes it feel dark, brooding and stark as a cold winter night. The scene is a brief one that shows a set of parents returning home after an evening out and paying the babysitter for watching their child. It is after the babysitter leaves that their daughter indicates that there were two people at home with her and the third one was ‘kind of weird.’ The meaning of this will come later in the story.
The narrative then jumps back to the Autumn of 1987 where we find a young couple escaping to a remote cabin for a vacation. Benedikt and his girlfriend (her identity is not given until later) seek each other’s warmth to fight the cold outside of the cabin. One of their discussions turns dark as they bring up the Icelandic witch burnings from the 17th century that reportedly took place in the area they were in. This is an ironic discussion as one of them (the girlfriend) will not make it out of that cabin alive. When the police arrive they find her, all alone, eyes wide open and dead with a puddle of dried blood beneath her skull.
Nothing ever comes from the investigation and the story soon shifts ahead ten years to the year 1997. This time the action involves two couples getting away to a remote hunting cabin in Elliðaey. The foursome are also reconnecting in a way as they were old friends who had not all been together for a while. Readers will be wary once they find that one of the young men is Benedikt. Things will get even more interesting when one of the young women dies by falling off a nearby cliff. This time around, D.I. Hulda runs the investigation, and she is ready to dive into both this current mystery and the now decade-old mystery, which seems to tie the past and present together.
Hulda is an intimidating figure to be interrogated by and she uncovers enough information about the three remaining suspects that the reader will be bouncing back and forth trying to determine who is innocent and who is guilty. Jonasson uses the mood of the area to set up each scene with the perfect eerie background and there are more than enough twists in the plot to keep things jumping. The Island is another entry in the growing genre of Icelandic Noir and certainly entertaining and interesting enough to make readers seek out all of Jonasson’s prior stellar murder mysteries.