Can you remember where you were between the 15th-21st April 2010, yes I know its a long time ago, but go on try to remember…If I said Eyjafjallajokull… No, I’m not swearing at you, but that word or similar sounding expletives were on the tip of quite a few European tongues that week in 2010. That was when a little known Icelandic volcano, until then that is, decided to erupt and the ensuing ash cloud grounded the European air traffic system, stranding over 10 million people worldwide and costing the airline industry $1.7 billion in lost revenue. That volcano, yes the one no one with out a large bottle Brennivin inside them can pronounce, plays a central role in this months second book, titled Black Out by Ragnar Jònasson published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk) in July 2016.
When man is killed at a remote cottage in Northern Iceland. Detective Ari Thór Arason a troubled and complex small town policemen and his colleagues start to investigate the crime. Was the man the intended victim? What kind of man was he? Why was he killed? Throw into the mix a reporter with secrets of her own, along with the convoluted lives of the investigating officers, their relatives and former lovers and you have a complex plot that’s even murkier without the added bonus of the ever present ash cloud.
This was my first foray into the series and almost my first exposure to Nordic Noir. Noir is certainly the word. As a lover of thrillers both crime and psychological since my early teens, somewhat foolishly I took this book as holiday reading on a sunny beach holiday. Not a good choice. This book needs a dark winter evening, in front of a roaring fire, with something stronger than cocoa, maybe Brennivin, the Icelandic Schnapps often referred to as the Black death.
Set during the 24 hour light of an Arctic summer you might think this book would inspire
you with wonderful descriptions of the Icelandic scenery. However, this is the period of the volcanic eruption and ash cloud . The cloud is shutting out the sun in Reykjavik and making life depressingly claustrophobic for the Icelanders who have endured the dark winter. I found this coloured the whole book. It was unremittingly dark and depressing. Not surprising for crime fiction you might say but even the parallel character plots were depressing. The most interesting character for me was Isrun, a young reporter. Her character is pivotal to moving the plot forwards and the representation of the cutthroat world of TV news, whilst not original, seemed realistic.
Everyone was miserable, suicidal or just downright nasty. When I say ‘everyone’, there were a lot of characters and a lot of threads, at least one of which, seemed to me unnecessary. However as this is the second of a series of linked novels, I appreciate some characters and storylines may be revisited and fleshing out of characters and laying the base of future plots could be required. I lost patience with the book several times but picked it up again and was eventually rewarded with the ‘hook’ which finally ignited my interest half way into the book. For myself, a hint of this or the reveal itself coming a little earlier would have invested me much more. Maybe Noir fans prefer the slow burn? I certainly found it confusing, having to turn back or reread to work out who people were etc. Not a book I’d recommend for the Kindle so!
This is Ragnar Jónasson’s (www.ragnar-jonasson.squarespace.com) 3rd book to be translated into English, his debut novel Snowblind was published to crital aclaim in 2015 followed closely by Nightblind in the same year. There are two more english translations scheduled for publication in 2017, they atre Breathless and Ruptiure.
Before beginning to write his own stories, Jónnason translated Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic and founded a crime writers festival in Iceland. I was hoping for some hint of Christie here. Reviews of ‘Snowblind’ referenced Jonasson as a modern Christie. He has obviously spent a long time honing his characters and plot lines for a series of books. I could also easily see a TV series. I was hoping to dip my toe into Nordic Noir with this book but in the end I found it too cold and bleak to take the plunge into the whole Fjord.
But if series like Fortitude (which didn’t get me either) are your thing, then get your togs or thermal swimsuit on and dive right in.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy