Let’s get this out of the way. Ragnar Jónasson is a talented and expert crime writer. If you thought his first foray into the English language market, Snowblind, was good then you’ll love Nightblind.
It’s set five years after Snowblind. Ragnar’s believable and grounded Icelandic cop, Ari Thór Arason, is still in beautiful Siglufjördur, although still battling with his personal relationships. Tómas, Ari Thór’s boss has returned to Reykjavík, to be replaced with Herjólfur.
This doesn’t last though, when Herjólfur is attacked and shot in an abandoned, bleak house on the outskirts of town. Tómas reappears – of all the Police in Iceland – to help Ari Thór investigate this serious assault on a Police Officer. This is the premises of Nightblind, and the rest of the story twists and turns from here, often wrong-footing the reader but always remaining firmly within the bounds of reality.
Ragnar writes clearly and concisely, and is no doubt assisted by the experienced translator and crime writer in his own right, Quentin Bates. However, I think there is something else that Ragnar draws upon too. Siglufjördur itself.
Throughout Nightblind, and for that matter, Snowblind, Siglufjördur looms as large as any other character in the books. It is frequently referred to, and the reader becomes well acquainted with the locations and street names used throughout the book. Readers will find themselves gleefully flicking to the map at the start of the book to gain their bearings. This is no bad thing.
I’m not accusing Ragnar of cashing in on Iceland’s tourism boom for a second, but it’s noted that there is a Siglufjördur tour planned as part of this years Iceland Noir festival, and the wonderful snippets of Siglufjördur life that Ragnar posts on Twitter himself. Take this passage, for example, ‘He had come to appreciate the summer in Siglufjördur, with its dazzling bright days. He enjoyed the winter as well, with its all enveloping darkness that curled itself around you like a giant cat.’ If that doesn’t want to make you google house prices in Siglufjördur, I don’t know what will.
Ragnar ends by the book in a delightful manner, by providing a sample of writing from his grandfather. The fact that his grandfather was a writer is not a surprise, in Iceland it would be unusual if he hadn’t written anything, but it’s interesting that he wrote about Siglufjördur too. And it wasn’t half bad. ‘There is no gleam of sunshine to light up the inside of the high ring of mountains that encircles Siglufjördur. The winter sun disappeared, as usual, behind Blekkisfjall mountain on the 15th of November. After that there is only a faint glow to be seen the Hafnarhyrna and Hestsskardshnjúkur mountains, if it clear enough in the middle of the day.’
Nightblind is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining crime story, and I can’t wait for the next instalment of the Dark Iceland series. What really makes it so special though, is that Ragnar can transport readers to the cold yet inspiring streets of Siglufjördur in an instant.