Chilling and complex, Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson is an extraordinary thriller and the second book in the Dark Iceland series.
Read Kristin Centorcelli's review of Nightblind, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of Ragnar Jonasson's second Dark Iceland novel and a signed copy of the first in the series, Snowblind!
In Ragnar Jonasson’s second novel (following Snowblind) featuring Ari Thór Arason—a young cop in the tiny fishing village of Siglufjӧrdur in Northern Iceland—he’s living with his girlfriend, Kristín, and 10-month-old son, Stefnir. Ari Thór is happy enough, but he tends to dive into his work, neglecting his young family in the process. It doesn’t help that Kristín is restless; the attentions of a handsome doctor at work are hitting their mark and making her wonder if there may be something else out there for her.
Unfortunately for Ari Thór, things are about to get pretty crazy in his small town. His partner, Herjólfer, is at a derelict house in the dark of night when something horrible happens. After he steps out of his car to investigate, a shot rings out. When Herjólfer’s wife contacts Ari Thór, worried that he hasn’t returned home, Ari Thór—in spite of fighting a wicked case of the flu—has no choice but to go look for him. After checking the station, he figures he’s got nothing to lose by checking the only two roads leading out of town. What he finds shocks him:
He knew he wasn’t fit to drive, still half-asleep, sick and weak, and he had to do a double take when he saw the patrol car at the roadside near the Strákar tunnel entrance, next to the old house that had been empty and becoming steadily more dilapidated ever since he had moved to the town.
Growing increasingly uneasy, Ari Thór felt and overwhelming sense of foreboding-almost like a premonition. At that exact moment, he knew that something had happened to Herjólfur. With an adrenaline buzz providing the boost of energy he needed to sideline the flu for a while and think clearly, he pulled up behind the patrol car.
Bracing himself against the freezing rain, his eyes struggling to adjust in the darkness that preceded the dawn, he peered through the car windows, and then opened the doors of the partrol car to see if Herjólfur might be inside.
His concern deepening, Ari Thór surveyed the landscape that surrounded him, the high mountain which the road had literally been carved, and the sea on the other side. There was barely room for this single house there on the side of the road, on what was essentially a landfill site, and beyond it was a sheer and deadly drop into the cold, northern sea. There was no light from the house, his jacket pulled tightly around him as the wind whipped the rain into a frenzy, he wondered if anyone would hear him if he called out. And then there was no need.
Ari Thór finds Herjólfer laying in the gravel and, by the amount of blood present, is shocked that he’s still alive. The police department is horrified. An attack like this, especially on a police officer, is highly unusual in such a small, tight-knit place.
Ari Thór is a bit too close to the investigation, so they bring back his former partner, Tómas, who recently took a job in Reykjavík. Ari Thór gets along with Tómas, but it’s also hard to relinquish control of an investigation. It doesn’t help that Herjólfer’s family is giving off a strange vibe—although his son does point to a possible investigation into the dope trade as the reason for Herjólfer’s presence at that house. Ari Thór isn’t so sure, and getting to the bottom of things proves to be daunting. Additionally, the mayor of their small little town seems to be up to no good, adding an unwanted political aspect to the whole affair.
The book is pretty short, and Jonasson’s narrative is a bit rough around the edges—characters aren’t fleshed out nearly as much as I’d like, but maybe some of that is lost in translation. But I do love how Jonasson uses the strange history (and boy is it strange) of the abandoned home to cast an eerie pall over the case and a town reeling from such a violent crime.
Jonasson certainly knows how to write a procedural. The bones—and potential—of a good series are here, and Jonasson has a finger firmly on the sturdy mechanics of old-fashioned mystery with rewards coming after the application of plenty of shoe leather and working the leads. Dealing with people is difficult, and good cops have to be something between a therapist and a law enforcement officer to get usable results. Police work is not a glitzy job; there are a lot of frustration involved, and those frustrations can bleed over into the detectives’ family lives.
More intriguing than the mystery—which is intriguing enough, don’t get me wrong—is Ari Thór. He’s young and has a lot of growing to do, but there’s a core to him that’s determined to do the right thing—sometimes at the expense of his personal life. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, as there’s plenty of room for him to grow. Add that to a fascinating setting, and you’ve got an author—and a series—to watch.
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