Narrator: Will Damron
Series: Dark Island #1
Published by Blackstone Publishing on January 31, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Length: 8 hours, 15 minutes
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Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors--accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.
Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik--with a past that he’s unable to leave behind.
When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theater, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life.
Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness--blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.
I’ve spent the better part of 2022 prepping for a long-awaited trip to Iceland. In addition to tackling the normal sources of travel information like guide books and blogs, I’ve eaten lots of skyr & cod, watched Trapped, and read several Icelandic novels. Does this make me a ‘method traveler?’ Maybe not quite. Regardless of my original intent, I was quickly absorbed in Nordic Noir fiction published by Icelandic authors. Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson was my first foray into this genre. It is the first in the Dark Iceland series and the best place to start (although the other books in the series are not in chronological order). Snowblind is an atmospheric gem that had me shivering as one stranded in a small Icelandic town in the middle of winter.
The tiny town of Seydisfjordur has a new police officer. While a posting in the obscure fishing village in the north of Iceland might be considered law-enforcement purgatory for a young guy right out of the police academy, Ari Thór Arason jumps at the job offer. He leaves behind the life he was building in Reykjavik (and one angry girlfriend) and heads north, determined to be successful. His first real test comes in the form of a murder and a vicious attack on a young woman. Snowblind is an apt title for the story. Ari Thór feels his way through the investigation, like a man caught in a blizzard. Even though he is impeded by his status as an outsider, it is his diligent, methodical investigation that keeps him sane in the darkening days of winter and uncovers the long-buried secrets of the small town.
Ari Thór is really the star of the show here. Although he doesn’t seem to make the smartest decisions, is a little immature when it comes to romantic relationships, and is still dealing with abandonment issues from childhood, one can’t help but root for him. He’s eager to prove himself (to everyone; the community, his girlfriend, his boss) and one can see he is oftentimes out of his depth. Watching him overcome his personal and professional struggles was actually as interesting to me as the mystery itself.
Snowblind is more police procedural than suspense thriller. The investigation is well-paced and the newness of Ari Thór to the community is the perfect way for each character to share their background without it seeming like an exposition. There are small details throughout, planted in precise and deliberate ways, that all make sense in the end. This could be influenced by the author’s personal resume translating several Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic.
Although the translations are fantastic and the writing is superb, there is a little bit of adjustment to the culturally-based phrasing and interpretations. I’d encourage anyone picking up an Icelandic novel to read brief explanations on surnames and pronunciation of Icelandic words, it makes these less of a stumbling block for native English readers.
Snowblind is well thought out novel with a few twists that kept me engaged and interested. Ragnar Jónasson delivered a satisfying mystery in a setting that is welcoming and cheerful at times and ominously oppressive at others.
I really enjoyed the narration of Snowblind. I found the pacing to be where it needed to be, and accurate for the action happening in the book. I had a little trouble with the character names and it made it difficult for be to follow along with the story initially. I eventually checked the ebook out from the library, just to validate the key characters. This was less an issue with the narration itself as with my understanding of Icelandic. For this reason, I’d probably recommend the ebook for readers not used to Icelandic books over the audio version.
Listen to a clip: HERE
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