“There is a Light and it never goes out”: ‘White Out’ by Ragnar Jonasson.

Thus far, the stack of snowy reading and cosy ‘whodunnits’ that’s been keeping me company through these long Winter evenings has been top drawer. What with solving Icelandic crimes with Ragnar Jónasson and Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, being transported back to a poignant summer by a remote Norwegian river long by Per Petterson and hopping back to the UK to solve a crime in a boarding school for girls with Josephine Tey, I haven’t had a moment to notice the endless gloom and cold. If anything, the time is flying by too fast! There are far too many books to review in one post so today I’ll start with some Icelandic sleuthing.

I’ve never visited Iceland but it’s up there on my wish list of places to visit. I’m enthralled by the landscape and the remote wild beauty of the place. As I’m also a fan of crime fiction, it’s no wonder that I’m particularly taken with Icelandic Crime. When I heard that another of Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland novels – White Out (trans. by Quentin Bates) had been translated and was due to be published, I was elated – more so when I was able to get hold of a review copy (thanks, Orenda Books!).

white out

The novel opens with a young woman leaving her home in Reykjavik, to revisit a remote outcrop of land in the north of Iceland, a place full of painful memories from her childhood. Her arrival at the old house and lighthouse in Kálfshamarvík, two days before Christmas, stirs up uncomfortable memories for the residents there who have never forgotten the double tragedy of the woman’s mother and sister both falling from the clifftop to their deaths in separate unexplained incidents. When the same fate befalls the young woman, Detective Ari Thór Arason is called in to investigate. As the body count rises, dark, long held secrets are unearthed.

It’s widely known that Ragnar Jónasson translated numerous Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and Christie’s influence is plain to see. The novels are tightly crafted, with clues and blind alleys alike well placed within the text to keep you guessing until the very end, and I found White Out to be a very satisfying read. What I think really makes the Dark Iceland Series stand apart is a written style so strongly evocative of the Golden Age of Crime, but combined with the rugged, unforgiving Icelandic landscape. This mystery might not be set within the confines of a crumbling country pile, but the claustrophobia is there in spades. The suspects don’t need four walls to contain them when the hostile weather, remoteness from other villages and rugged landscape are more than enough to prevent any notion of escape.

Ari Thór stepped warily towards the edge. The rocks had been made slippery by the falling snow, but he was confident he could keep his balance. He had seen higher cliffs, but there was something unsettling about the sheer drop here, about looking down and seeing what awaited anyone unlucky enough to lose their footing… the sharp edges of the basalt columns, the boulders lining the shore, the dark sea. The cold wind from the north reminded Ari Thór of where he was; this was the edge of the habitable world.

This is the fifth book of the Dark Iceland Series that I’ve read and reviewed, and along with SnowBlind it’s one of my favourites. As most of the action is confined to the remote lighthouse, the feeling of being trapped by the landscape is palpable and chilling. As a wintry page-turner, it ticked all the boxes and I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Ragnar jonasson

Proof that Icelanders are made of sturdy stuff : open jacket, no scarf – I’m catching a chill just looking at him! (pic taken from http://scandinaviaonmymind.com/interview-ragnar-jonasson/).

You can read my other reviews of the Dark Iceland Series here: Snow Blind; Night Blind; Black Out and Rupture.

* I’ll be away from a computer until 25th January, so please don’t be offended if it takes me a little while to reply to comments and catch up on what’s been happening in the blogosphere while I’m away. See you soon!