So this winter has, so far, been a little less arctic than some previous ones. So we’ve had some extraordinarily warm days that feel like May rather than February. If you’re missing the cold and snow and ice and want to spend some time experiencing the bitter dangers of winter (without having to shovel snow or slip on ice), then we have a couple of new mysteries at the Field which should be just what the doctor ordered.
Ragnar Jonasson’s debut mystery*, Snowblind, takes place in a tiny fishing village in northern Iceland, accessible to the mainland only through a tunnel, where young police officer Ari Thor Arason is posted for the first time. Ari is leaving his girlfriend behind in the city of Reykjavik, but he’s not able to leave behind all of his past, which will come back to haunt him in this seemingly peaceful little town where nobody even locks their doors. Clearly the town isn’t as innocent and idyllic as it seems, because Ari first finds a woman lying unconscious and bleeding, half naked, in the snow, and shortly thereafter an esteemed local writer falls to his death in the local theater. As an outsider, Ari has no way of knowing who he should trust and it becomes clear to him that the village is full of secrets and lies, and winter is closing in, isolating Ari in this northern nightmare, where the past interferes with the present, and the claustrophobic tension mounts steadily.
For another example of Icelandic noir, try The Undesired, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Back in the 1970’s, a woman named Aldis was working at a juvenile detention center in rural Iceland, a job she hated. Between the boys being difficult, the unpleasant owners of the facility and the strange noises she kept hearing at night, she was pretty fed up with her job. And then two of the boys disappeared, never to be found again. Decades later, Odinn, a single father, is investigating reports of abuse at that same center, and he starts discovering unsettling things about the events of the 1970’s, strange as they were, and he begins to wonder whether there’s a connection between Aldis and her experiences at the center and the death of Odinn’s ex-wife in what was supposed to be an accident, but which might have been something far more sinister.
While neither of these books is likely to be endorsed by the Tourism Board of Iceland, if you’re in the mood for cold and creepy and dangerous, give our new Icelandic mysteries a try.
*Yes, this qualifies for the debut novel category for the 2017 Reading Challenge, in case you’re working on that.