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#Bookreview OUTSIDE by Ragnar Jónasson (@ragnarjo) (@MichaelJBooks) #Nordicthriller A solid mystery with few (and not very likeable) protagonists, and where the Icelandic highlands play a big part

Hi all:

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

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 . . .

https://www.amazon.com/Outside-Ragnar-Jonasson-ebook/dp/B09CNFG8KW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B095WF13P2/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/024149365X/

Author Ragnar Jónasson

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. 

http://ragnar-jonasson.squarespace.com

My review:

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!

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Book review Book reviews

THE HUNTING PARTY: A NOVEL by Lucy Foley (@HarperCollinsUK) (@lucyfoleytweets) A twisted mystery and an homage to the classics of the genre

Hi all:

I bring you a mystery that although reminiscent of old classics, is fairly more twisted and dark than mysteries of old.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Hunting Party: A Novel by Lucy Foley

AN INSTANT SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

NAMED ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED THRILLERS OF THE WINTER BY:

Goodreads • BookBub • PopSugar • BookRiot • Crimereads • Pure Wow • Crime by the Book

ALL OF THEM ARE FRIENDS. ONE OF THEM IS A KILLER.

“A ripping, riveting murder mystery — wily as Agatha Christie, charged with real menace, real depth. Perfect for fans of Ruth Ware.” – A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

DON’T BE LEFT OUT. JOIN THE PARTY NOW.

https://www.amazon.com/Hunting-Party-Novel-Lucy-Foley-ebook/dp/B07B7LLJLZ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hunting-Party-Novel-Lucy-Foley-ebook/dp/B07B7LLJLZ/

https://www.amazon.es/Hunting-Party-Novel-Lucy-Foley-ebook/dp/B07B7LLJLZ/

About the author:

Lucy Foley studied English Literature at Durham and UCL universities and worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry, before leaving to write full-time. The Hunting Party is her debut crime novel, inspired by a particularly remote spot in Scotland that fired her imagination.

Lucy is also the author of three historical novels, which have been translated into sixteen languages.

Follow her on:

Twitter: @lucyfoleytweets
Instagram: @lucy_foley_author
Facebook.com/lucyfoleyauthor

https://www.amazon.com/Lucy-Foley/e/B00LMBVZNC?

My review:

I thank Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

Lucy Foley is a new author to me, but I was intrigued by the premise of the book, which promised to be a look back at the classics but with a modern touch. The format is easily recognisable (a group of people isolated in a somewhat strange setting, a crime, and the suspicions that fall on all those present). I had recently read The Glass Hotel and although they are set in very different locations (the hotel here is in the Scottish Highlands), there were some similarities in the isolation of the place, and in the motivations of some of the employees to seek such isolation, but this is a more conventional caper, where everybody hides secrets, dislikes and even hatreds, and there is a lot of emphasis placed on the relationship between the university friends who go on holiday together even though they no longer have much in common, and whom we get to know pretty well during the book.

There are plenty of lies, obscure motivations, relationships that are not what they seem to be, infidelity, popularity contests, friction between the so-called friends, and the book is told in two separate timeframes, one after the crime (although a bit like in Big Little Lies, we hear about the aftermath of the crime, but who the victim is doesn’t get revealed until almost the very end), and another that follows chronologically from the time when the friends set off towards their holiday destination. Eventually, both narratives catch up, and we get a full understanding of what has gone on.  It’s a great strategy to keep readers guessing, and although I did have my suspicions of at least some of the things that were to come, I admit that there are some interesting red herring thrown into the works . Readers need to remain attentive to the changes in time frame to avoid getting confused as to when things have taken place, although this is clearly stated in the novel.

One of the problems some readers seem to have with the novel is that the characters are not terribly likeable. The story is narrated mostly from the point of view of several of the women: three of the female friends (Emma, the newest one to arrive in the group; Miranda, the Queen Bee who never quite lived up to everybody’s expectations; and Katie, Miranda’s best friend, the only single one, who seems to have outgrown the group in many ways ), and also Heather, the manager of the hotel, who has secrets of her own (and is one of the nicest characters)— all of them told in the first person—, and one man’s point of view, Doug, another employee of the hotel, although in his case we get a third-person account, and one marred by many of his personal difficulties (let’s say that he is not a very reliable narrator). Reading the events from several points of view helps us gain perspective and heightens our suspicions as to what might really be going on. I must agree that the characters, probably because we are privy to their internal thoughts rather than to others’ opinions of them, are difficult to like. Self-obsessed or obsessed with others, with random likes and dislikes, cruel, or unable to face the truth… none of them are people most of us would choose as friends. Considering this is a book about a group of friends, it does offer a particularly grim view of old friendships, emphasising the lack of sincerity and honesty and the dark undertones to most of the relationships between them. On the other hand, I must admit that dark —or at least grey— characters make for a much more interesting reading experience than goody two-shoes.

The writing style is straight forward and manages to create a clear image of the characters in the reader’s mind. There are some rather memorable scenes as well, but the book takes its time building up the background and the relationships, rather than moving at a fast pace, but still manages to keep readers intrigued and interested.

As I said, I had my suspicions about who the guilty party might be and what was behind the murder from early on (the clues are all there), but nonetheless I found the ending satisfying, and I think most readers will feel the same.

In sum, a solid thriller, that brings back memories of old style mystery novels, with more emphasis on the psychological aspect, and which also has much in common with the domestic noir style (although here transposed to the Highlands). An interesting novel for lovers of the genre, and one that I’m sure in the right hands could be turned into a successful movie.

Oh, an update on my news. The course is hard but not going too badly so far, but due to the Coronavirus all the schools and institutes have been closed, and we’ll do what we can online, but as we have to also teach students, and at the moment we don’t know when that will be possible, I might not be back as soon as I expected, or I might be back and disappear again. I’ll keep you posted, but will carry on posting reviews when I have a chance.

Thanks to the publisher, the author and NetGalley, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep smiling! And be safe!

 

 

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