If you are into Nordic noir and Nordic crime thrillers, you should read on.
The Darkness: Hidden Iceland Series, Book One by Ragnar Jónasson
Chilling – a must-read’ PETER JAMES
A young woman is found dead on a remote Icelandic beach.
She came looking for safety, but instead she found a watery grave.
A hasty police investigation determines her death as suicide . . .
When Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police is forced into early retirement, she is told she can investigate one last cold case of her choice – and she knows which one.
What she discovers is far darker than suicide . . . And no one is telling Hulda the whole story.
When her own colleagues try to put the brakes on her investigation, Hulda has just days to discover the truth. A truth she will risk her own life to find.
‘A true masterpiece . . . a plot full of twists and turns and an ending that leaves you gasping for air’ Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Superb. . . chilling . . . This is the first volume in Jonasson’s Hidden Iceland trilogy, which tells Hulda’s story in reverse chronological order and establishes her as one of the great tragic heroines of contemporary detective fiction (Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month)
Expertly plotted, with an ending that’s a true shocker, The Darkness is the first book in a trilogy featuring this engaging investigator, which is good news (The Guardian)
Magnificently dark and twisted! That ending – blimey! (C. J. Tudor, bestselling author of The Chalk Man)
A sympathetic yet entirely unsentimental portrait of a flawed but decent detective seeking justice for a murdered Russian asylum seeker (Sunday Times Crime Club)
It will get your pulse racing and keep you hooked to the last page
(Simon Kernick of The Bone Field series)
The Darkness is a bullet train of a novel, at once blazingly contemporary and Agatha-Christie old-fashioned. With prose as pure and crisp as Reykjavik snowcrust, Ragnar Jónasson navigates the treacherous narrative with a veteran’s hand. I reached the end with adrenalized anticipation, the final twist hitting me in the face. I dare you not to be shocked (Gregg Hurwitz Sunday Times bestselling author of Orphan X)
Was gripped from the start of this brilliantly told story. And left wide-eyed with shock at the ending (Fiona Barton, bestselling author of The Widow)
The Darkness is Ragnar Jónasson at the top of his game – deft plotting, a great central character and a story as chilling as the Icelandic winter. I couldn’t put it down (William Ryan author of The Holy Thief)
Page-turning stuff with an unexpected ending! (James Swallow)
Another masterpiece from the King of Icelandic Noir (Thomas Enger bestselling author of the Henning Juul series)
From the Inside Flap
The body of a young Russian woman washes up on an Icelandic shore. After a cursory investigation, the death is declared a suicide and the case is quietly closed.
Over a year later Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police is forced into early retirement. She dreads the loneliness and the memories of her dark past that threaten to come back to haunt her. But before she leaves she is given two weeks to solve a single cold case of her choice.
She knows which one: the Russian woman whose hope for asylum ended on the dark, cold shore of an unfamiliar country. Soon Hulda discovers that another young woman vanished at the same time and that no one is telling her the whole story. Even her colleagues in the police seem determined to put the brakes on her investigation. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.
Hulda will find the killer, even if it means putting her own life in danger.
From the dark streets of Reykjavík to Iceland’s forbidding mountains and isolated fjords, The Darkness is a brooding and bleak tale of a woman risking everything to discover the truth . . .
About the author:
Ragnar Jonasson is the award-winning author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series.
His debut Snowblind, first in the Dark Iceland series, went to number one in the Amazon Kindle charts shortly after publication. The book was also a no. 1 Amazon Kindle bestseller in Australia.
The second book in the series, Nightblind, also became a no. 1 Amazon Kindle bestseller in Australia.
Ragnar is the winner of the Mörda Dead Good Reader Award 2016 for Nightblind.
Snowblind was selected by The Independent as one of the best crime novels of 2015 in the UK and it has also been on best seller lists in France.
Rights to the Dark Iceland series have been sold to 14 countries.
TV rights to the series have been sold to production company On the Corner in the UK, producers of Academy Award-winning documentary Amy.
Ragnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he works as a writer and a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV-news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.
Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA).
He is also the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival Iceland Noir.
From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic.
Ragnar has also had short stories published internationally, including in the distinguished Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the US, the first stories by an Icelandic author in that magazine.
He has appeared on festival panels worldwide and lives in Reykjavik.
Fölsk nóta, 2009
SHORT STORIES IN ENGLISH:
Death of a Sunflower, 2014, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January 2014.
Party of Two, 2014, Guilty Parties – CWA 2014 Anthology edited by Martin Edwards (Seven House)
A Moment by the Sea, 2014, Orendabooks.co.uk
A Letter to Santa, 2015, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January 2015
Thanks to NetGalley and to Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
I’ve followed with interest the rise in popularity of the Nordic/ Scandinavian Thrillers in recent years, although I have read random titles rather than becoming a dedicated fan of any single writer. (I’ve also watched quite a few of the crime TV series produced in those countries and I’ve particularly enjoyed Wallander, The Bridge, and The Killing). This is the first novel I read by Ragnar Jónasson, although I suspect it won’t be the last.
The novel contains some familiar elements, although with interesting variations. The main character, Hulda, a Detective Inspector, that works in Reykjavík, is 64 and on her way to retirement. She is surprised by the news that this retirement has been brought forward, and, as an afterthought to keep her quiet, her boss tells her she can work on a cold case of her choice. She chooses the apparent suicide of a Russian girl, an asylum seeker because she mistrusts the lead investigator. The novel, written in the third person, mostly from Hulda’s point of view, follows her last three days in the force. I say mostly because there are other fragments that are told from other characters’ points of view, although at first, it is not that clear who they are. We come to understand how they relate to the main story later, but I must clarify that they are clearly distinct, easy to follow, and do not cause any confusion. They do provide additional information, a different perspective, and they help us understand the story and the characters more fully (and yes, they might also mislead us a tiny bit), although I suspect some readers might catch on faster than others as to their true relevance.
Hulda is a known standard of the genre: the old detective forced to leave the job that is determined to solve one last case before retirement. Only, in this case, she is a woman, and she does reflect on how difficult things have been for her because she is a woman, glass ceiling and all. She does share some of the other attributes sometimes typical of these characters: she is very good but not that very well liked; she has to work alone because she is not a favourite among the other detectives; she resents her younger boss and many of her teammates; she is effective but might bend the rules slightly; she is reserved and has suffered tragedies in her life… The author is very good at creating a very compelling character and then making us question our judgment. At least in my case, I really liked Hulda to begin with, but after a while, I realised that she might be one of those favourites of mine, an unreliable narrator (or, although not directly a narrator, her point of view is unreliable). She makes decisions that are morally questionable; she drinks a bit too much; and well… I am keeping my mouth shut. My feelings for this character went from really liking her, to not being so sure, to not liking her very much, and then… This change in opinion and perception is cleverly achieved and extremely well done, and it reminded me of books like We Need to Talk about Kevin (not the story itself, but the way the writer slowly makes us empathise with a character to later pull the rug from under our feet).
The story is dark in more ways than one. As I said, there are morally grey areas (or even quite dark): the subject matter and the fact that a young asylum seeker and her death are not considered important and have been all but forgotten a year down the line (unfortunately that rings true), Hulda’s own life and the secrets she keeps, and Iceland. Although there is not a great deal of violence (and definitely not explicit), there is a certain unsettling air and a cold and menacing atmosphere, that comes in part from Hulda’s paranoia and her personality (suspicious and mistrustful), but goes beyond it. The setting is very important and it contributes to the story and its effect on the reader. Iceland is a character in its own right. The descriptions of the many locations in the book create a picture in the reader’s mind and help understand how important the place is to the mood, the characters, and their way of life. A place where light and darkness rule people’s lives, and where the inhabitants have adapted to conditions many of us would find difficult and hostile. The title is apt for many reasons (as we learn as we read on). It is a noir novel, where nobody is exactly as they appear at first, and where red herrings, false clues, and side-stories muddy the storyline, adding layers of complexity to what appears straightforward, at first.
The writing is fluid, and versatile, providing different registers and clearly distinct voices for the different aspects of the story and the varied points of view, and although it is a translation, it is well-written and the style fits in perfectly the content. It is not the usual fast-paced thriller, but one that builds up tension and organically incorporates the psychology of the characters and the setting into the story.
A couple of examples:
Time was like a concertina: one minute compressed, the next stretching out interminably.
‘She’s being deported. It happens. You know, it’s a bit like those games of musical chairs you play as a kid. The music starts, everyone gets up and walks in a circle and when the music stops, one of the chairs is taken away and someone’s unlucky.’
The ending… I will not talk in detail about it but although perhaps not unexpected, is a bit of a shocker.
A great (and not long) novel for lovers of Nordic thrillers, or anybody who enjoys thrillers that deviate from the norm. I’d also recommend it to anybody intrigued by Iceland and unreliable narrators. And I’d also recommend it to authors always intrigued by other authors’ technique and voice. I intend to keep reading the series. And enjoying it.
Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishing company for the book, thanks to the author, and thank you all for reading. Remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW, and to keep reading!