Sunday, 24 July 2016

"The red stain was like a scream in the silence"

Coming off the back of my unexpected first foray into the work of Anne Tyler I needed something darker, something more enigmatic to complete my summer holiday reading list; so it was time to delve back into the Icelandic crime genre. Having previously read and and reviewed Ragar Jonasson's novel Night Blindthe second in the Dark Iceland series, this time I'm right at the beginning with Snow Blind.

Snow Blind is the first time we meet Jonasson's protagonist Ari Thor, the new guy in town having been sent from Reykjavik to work with the police department in remote town Sigluffjordur. Thor is an outsider which translator Quentin Bates makes work well in translation for us readers discovering Icelandic idiosyncrasies for the first time.

In this novel Ari Thor finds himself investigating the case of a barely conscious young woman left bleeding in the snow and a death amongst the members of the local amateur dramatic society. This is classic Midsomer territory, a middle-class microcosm of unassuming characters, but scratch beneath the surface and you'll find the kind of secrets and untruths that the Nordic Noir genre dishes out in spades. With the town cut off from the outside world after an avalanche the story takes on a chilling twist that you simply couldn't find in other less accomplished crime fiction.

Jonasson's skill is taking the conventions of the crime writing genre and layering on top a uniquely Icelandic quality. In this case its the idea of claustrophobia that Jonasson plays on so well. Firstly in the setting, not only is Iceland a small and relatively isolated island but Siglufjordur is on the remote northern coast. Even within the town the story is set within a small and intense group of people. Secondly its the weather which adds a suffocating and smothering feeling as the snow comes down to blanket everything. Ari Thor could easily be stifled by the asphyxiating nature of the town but through a mixture of faith and leading man (Thor like) heroics he prevails. The third in the Dark Iceland series is out soon and I, for one, can't wait. 

There is something beautifully perverse in reading a novel set in the Icelandic Winter whilst basking in 30 degree Mediterranean sunshine but isn't that what fiction is all about? 

I read this novel in paperback in July 2016 by the pool in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson (translated by Quentin Bates), published by Orenda Books, 300 pages

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