A classic whodunnit in small-town Iceland
Book review: Snowblind
Christine Foster Meloni
The protagonist, Ari Thór Arason, is a rookie policeman. He leaves his home and girlfriend in the capital Reykjavík without much thought when offered his first assignment up North. He begins to have misgivings almost immediately, however, when he discovers that the only way to get in and out of the town is via a small mountain tunnel. Severe claustrophobia begins to set in when he realizes that it snows a lot in this location and the snow often makes it impossible to access the tunnel or even to leave one’s house.
Police Chief Tómas assures his new recruit that crime is extremely rare and tells him that he need not lock his doors. No one in Siglufjördur does. But soon a well-known writer, Hrólfur Kristjánsson, falls down a flight of stairs to his death during a rehearsal at the local Drama Society and then a woman is found in her backyard half naked and bleeding in the snow. The writer’s death seems to be an accident while the dying woman seems to be the victim of attempted murder. But are the two events that happened so close together connected? Might the writer have been the victim of foul play as well? Is there a murderer on the loose?
Jónasson is a fan of Agatha Christie and has translated many of her novels into Icelandic. Her influence is evident in Jónasson’s novel. The investigation centers on the cast of characters involved in the Drama Society rehearsal. Hrólfur, it seems, was not very well liked. But who would hate him enough to kill him? Úlfur, the director of the theater, who had just had a row with Hrólfur? Anna, who was upset that she had not been given the female lead in the play? Karl, the male lead, who was having an affair with Anna and was afraid that Hrólfur had found out? Ugla, who may have had an eye on Hrólfur’s inheritance? Or Leifur the carpenter? No single suspect stands out and the reader will have a difficult time trying to decide Who Done It.
The relentless snow is also a major character in this novel. The author describes one of Ari Thór’s panic attacks in the midst of a snowstorm. One day Ari Thór is sitting in his office at the police station and he looks out uneasily at the steady snowfall. “It was as if the weather gods were trying to construct a wall around the building that he would never be able to break through. He saw things grow dim and suddenly he found himself fighting for breath.”
Many readers will want to continue to follow the adventures of Ari Thór in this exciting and well-written series. Snowblind is followed by Nightblind, Blackout, Rupture, and Whiteout.
Snowblind (Snjóblinda, trans. by Quentin Bates), by Ragnar Jónasson, was published in 2017 by St. Martin’s Press.
Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.