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.  



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.