I bring you the review of a novel by an Icelandic author I have read before, and who has become quite popular in recent times.
Outside by Ragnar Jónasson
With three million copies of his books sold worldwide, “world-class crime writer”(The Sunday Times, UK) Ragnar Jónasson brings us a chilling new standalone thriller with Outside.
Four friends. One night. Not everyone will come out alive . . .
When a deadly snowstorm strikes the Icelandic highlands, four friends seek shelter in a small, abandoned hunting lodge.
It is in the middle of nowhere and there’s no way of communicating with the outside world.
They are isolated, but they are not alone . . .
As the night darkens, and fears intensify, an old tragedy gradually surfaces – one that forever changed the course of their friendship.
Those dark memories could hold the key to the mystery the friends now find themselves in.
And whether they will survive until morning . . .
About the author:
Ragnar Jónasson is the award winning author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series, the Hulda Trilogy and standalone crime fiction.
CBS Studios is to adapt The Darkness as an eight-part TV series.
The Times selected The Darkness as one of the 100 Best Crime Novels and Thrillers since 1945. Snowblind was selected as one of Top 100 Crime Fiction of all time by Blackwell’s.
Ragnar has been a no. 1 bestseller in Germany (Spiegel Bestseller), a no. 1 crime fiction bestseller in France and a no. 1 Kindle bestseller in the UK and Australia. In 2020 he became the first Icelandic author ever to have three books in the top ten of the German Spiegel bestseller.
Ragnar has also enjoyed awards across the international crime scene. He won the Mörda Dead Good Reader Award for Nightblind, and The Mist won the Amazon Publishing & Capital Crime Mystery of the Year award in 2020. Snowblind was selected by The Independent as one of the best crime novels of 2015. His books have also won praise from publications such as The Times of London, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Times Literary Supplement.
He has also been shortlisted for Novel of the Year in Sweden, The Barry Award in the US and the Petrona Award. The film rights for The Darkness have also been snapped up by Hollywood production company Stampede, led by former President of Warner Bros, Greg Silverman. They have struck a deal with CBS Studios to adapt the novel into an eight-part series.
Ragnar is 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 appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik. Ragnar has a law degree and works as an investment banker in Reykjavik, in addition to teaching law at Reykjavik University.
I thank NetGalley and Penguin Michael Joseph UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
I read one of Ragnar Jónasson’s novels some time ago (The Darkness, the first in his Hidden Iceland series), and I really enjoyed the novel, although I hadn’t managed to catch up with any of his other books yet (although I am sure I have some others on my list).
When I came across this one, I decided it was time to try another one of his novels, although people seemed a bit more divided on their opinions about it. And it is not difficult to see why that should be the case. I also thought that a book set in Iceland in the middle of a snowstorm would be the perfect read to combat the current heatwave. One thing is for sure, the story and its protagonists are quite chilling.
As it clearly states in the description, this is a stand-alone novel and not a part of a series, so readers don’t need to be worried if they haven’t read anything by the author. Nordic thrillers have become almost a genre in their own right, and this novel fits into the category perfectly.
It also fits into a group of books that are reminiscent of the locked room or isolated location mysteries, but with some twists. Now, instead of an impossible mystery (or in addition to it), we have a house or some other location (a mountain refuge in this case) where a group of people ends up trapped, for one reason or another, and although things appear pretty harmless and even nice at first, the situation starts deteriorating soon enough, the relationship between the characters (when there is one) starts to unravel, and secrets and lies surface with dire consequences. Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party is a popular example that I was reminded of when I read this novel, although not the only one.
We have four friends who’ve gone on a hunting trip in the Icelandic highlands, three men and one woman, and they are as different as you can imagine: one is an actor living in the UK, with a girlfriend 15 years his junior, his best friend is a lawyer and a recovering alcoholic who has been dry for a couple of years now, the woman is still grieving the loss of the love of her life in pretty tragic circumstances, and the man who organised the trip, who know owns a tour company, has a bit of a dark past, and got into a fair amount of trouble in Denmark.
As seems to be the norm, the characters are not particularly likeable, and because the story is told (in the third person) alternatively from the point of view of the four friends, we get to know how their minds work and some (not all) of their secrets. The author is good at plotting and at creating psychologically realistic characters, and he knows what to show and what to hide in order to keep the intrigue going, as there are things that are very important to the plot, and we don’t get to know until very close to the end. But well… It’s the nature of the beast.
Of course, there are hidden reasons behind the trip and the bizarre things that start happening, although not everything is part of the plan. There are some red herrings as well, that might rise the readers’ suspicions and they work well, especially considering there are very few characters and it is difficult to keep the tension going, but the author manages to do that pretty well.
What I most liked about the story is the setting and the way the author uses Iceland and the specific location and the weather conditions to add to the tense atmosphere. I also appreciated the way the story is told and the skill the author has in revealing and hiding some pieces of information to make the story work. It is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. It is easy to put some pieces together, but the whole picture reveals new and unexpected things. The chapters are short and the story progresses at a good pace, even when there is not much actual movement. I also enjoyed the way we get to know how the characters think, and we can almost see their brains ticking while trying to save themselves and make the right decision, whatever the price. The situations are so extreme that it is impossible not to wonder what we would in those circumstances, but, on the other hand, the characters have such particular baggage that it is unlikely we would feel exactly the same as they and be compelled to do some of the things they do.
The characters have very few redeeming features, if any, although I won’t go into any detail to avoid possible spoilers. Readers who need to connect with the characters or have, at least, someone to root for, will find it a bit difficult here, but the plot and the reasons behind what happens are likely to keep most people sufficiently intrigued to keep going. I have said before that I don’t mind unlikeable characters as protagonists, and although I wouldn’t like to call any of the people in this book my friends, I was quite keen on reading about them and trying to guess what would happen next.
The ending worked for me. There is a note of disquiet that I feel suits the genre pretty well, but people who like neatly tied and wrapped stories where the world is put to rights, will not share my opinion.
I’d recommend this novel to people who enjoy Nordic thrillers, especially those with few protagonists and who prefer stand-alone stories. I enjoyed The Darkness much more, as it is a more complex book, not so driven by the plot, but I am sure this won’t be the last of Jónasson’s novels I’ll read.
Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, keep smiling and keep cool! Take care!