Book review: The Darkness, by Ragnar Jónasson

26 03 2018

Ragnar Jónasson is an Icelandic crime fiction writer who has rapidly established a reputation for sharp, sparse, noirish crime novels through his five-book ‘Dark Iceland’ series that follows the exploits of Detective Ari Thór Arason. I’ve previously reviewed three of those novels.

TheDarkness

The Darkness (Dimma, 2015, translated by Victoria Cribb) is the first volume in Ragnar’s ‘Hidden Iceland’ trilogy which features Detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík CID. Hulda is on the cusp of retirement from the force, a circumstance that has been peremptorily brought forward by her superior officer Magnús. He wishes Hulda to take pre-retirement leave commencing immediately, for purposes of bringing more fresh blood into the department in her absence; Hulda, for whom the prospect of retirement holds no joy, wrings a concession out of him to remain on active duty for a further two weeks to investigate a cold case of her own choice. The case she’s chosen is that of Elena, a Russian asylum seeker found dead—possibly drowned, possibly bashed—on the rocks at Njardvík, the previous year. Elena’s death has been ruled a suicide, but Hulda can very quickly see that the original investigation, by Alexander—hardly one of the department’s best and brightest—has cut all manner of corners.

Hulda is a fallible, past-haunted, determined investigator, and as the novel’s anchor she emerges as a character of impressive solidity. The case she must try to unravel is sketched by Ragnar with an efficient, cold minimalism, as is his style. It’s surprising, on looking back on the novel, just how few moving parts it has, and yet it thrums with tension and intrigue, and retains an ability to surprise right to the final pages. I’m certainly anticipating the next instalment in the series.

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