What is it about the Scandinavian mystery writers? Why are their books so dark and yet so compelling? From Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series (which I love passionately) to Stieg Larsson’s Millennial series (more popularly known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels), to Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer books, with a whole lot of other authors in similar veins in between, there’s a whole genre of Scandinavian mysteries, and they’re addictive in the extreme. Perhaps it’s something about the long winters and the long hours of night. Perhaps it’s the writers’ reaction against the countries’ reputation as the best and happiest places on earth.
The latest entry in this category is Ragnar Jonasson’s Nightblind, a sequel to Snowblind, set in a small town in Iceland which is so quiet and crime-free that nobody locks their doors. Their local police officer, Ari Thor Arason, protagonist of the previous book and a fairly recent arrival from the Big City, Reykjavik, has an uneasy relationship with the local people. Then his superior officer is shot, at point blank range, in a deserted house. If Ari hadn’t called in sick that night, he realizes he might have been the victim, which adds a note of urgency to his efforts to solve the crime, as the long arctic night begins to close in. The whole country is shocked at the murder (Iceland’s annual murder rate is in the single digits), especially of a police officer, which puts more pressure on Ari and his new supervisor, sent from the city, to solve the case as soon as possible. But this is going to be more complicated than they imagined, involving dark hidden secrets and a long buried past, local political corruption, a compromised new mayor of the town, and someone who’s being held in a psychiatric hospital in Reykjavik for reasons we don’t learn until fairly late in the book. The claustrophobic nature of a murder in a small town where everybody knows everybody else and everybody’s hiding something is increased by the bitter Icelandic winter, closing in on everyone and forcing people to stay where they are.
If you’re a fan of good Scandinavian mysteries, or if you just like a good solid mystery where the clues are revealed slowly amid red herrings and dark hints about the way the past casts its shadows on the present, then you should definitely pick up Nightblind.