Nightblind | Ragnar Jónasson | 2016 | Orenda Books | 210p | Review copy | Buy the book
Five years have passed since the events of Snowblind. Ari Thór Arason is now settled as a policeman in the fishing village of Siglufjörður, on the northernmost tip of Iceland. While he was overlooked for the role of inspector when his previous boss headed south, his family life has settled. He now lives with his partner Kirstin and they have a baby son. In fact, much is bright on the horizon. Siglufjörður no longer relies on an unreliable tunnel for contact through the long winter nights. There is now a new tunnel which has seen the place revitalised with tourists and skiers keen to visit a place that is so beautiful, helping a community suffering from lost herring shoals. But so much of this is surface deep. Ari Thór’s relationship isn’t quite what it seems, Siglufjörður is still as dark as pitch for the wintry weeks of the year and now the new inspector has been shot at point blank range outside an empty house in the dead of night.
This is a quiet, contained community but it is a place where everyone wants to know everyone else’s business. It reels with the shock of the inspector’s shooting – this is not a place where you want a killer on the loose – but it is all too keen to keep its secrets. Ari Thór’s old boss Tómas is recalled to lead the investigation. It’s not that easy for the two men to work together despite the brittle friendship that has grown between them but work together they must. There are people to investigate, not least the new mayor and his assistant who, like Ari Thór, is a newcomer to the village and, as such, will forever be made to feel like an outsider. And all the time Ari Thór must deal with the family of the shot inspector as well as Kirstin and the very real prospect that someone in this enclosed community is not what they seem. It’s time to rid this place of its secrets.
I must admit to feeling a little puzzled that the original novels are being translated and internationally published out of order – I understand that the next book will go back again to the time following the events of Snowblind. However, regardless of this, Snowblind was an excellent debut by Ragnar Jónasson but, in my opinion, it is outshone by Nightblind. This novel is far more confident and better structured. It moves with greater ease towards its goal, there’s none of the stalling that slowed the pace of Snowblind. Nightblind knows where it’s going and it sticks to its path throughout. Again we have a closed community, a traditional whodunnit in the style of Agatha Christie, but now we have a cleverly laid maze of red herrings and possible suspects, all set against a background of life in Siglufjörður, with all its worries, family unhappiness and that stark beauty of an Iceland winter night.
The novel mostly follows Ari Thór through his investigation. As with Snowblind, I have mixed feelings towards our detective, wishing he was more energetic and more alert to the people around him. But as Nightblind continues, I felt more sympathetically towards a man who seems to have always believed himself out of his depth. It takes a while but finally Ari Thór comes into his own.
Throughout the novel are scattered passages from a journal written by someone trapped in a hospital psychiatric ward. They seem to be there against their will but the reason why only slowly emerges.
The mystery contained with Nightblind is an excellent one. It involves themes that are forever important, no matter where we live. But the fact that these are set within this most atmospheric and beautiful of winter settings adds another level of pleasure for the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed Nightblind. Well-written and beautifully atmospheric, it has an excellent translator in Quentin Bates. It’s an immersive read and suits well one or two sittings, curled up, warm and cosy, with winter safely kept at bay and just out of reach.
I’m delighted to post this review as part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of Nightblind this month. For other stops on the tour, take a look at the poster below.