Ragnar Jonasson – Snowblind

Snowblind has several things going for it. Firstly, the central character, Ari Thor. Young, smart, impetuous, and deeply confused, he’s a convincing mid-20s bloke tackling his first job – all desire to prove himself and no common sense. Secondly, the location. I have developed a big soft spot for Iceland, and Siglufjordur is a perfect pot-boiler setting – a small settlement on the north coast, which is inaccessible in deep winter as the sea is wild, the mountain pass iced closed, and the single-lane tunnel through the mountain gets blocked by avalanches.

Needless to say, when young Ari Thor lands a job as the policeman on the block in November, he has no idea how isolated he is going to be. Leaving behind his girlfriend in Reykjavik, he soon realises just how small a community he has moved to – and how big a challenge it will be to make it home. When a local author dies in a fall, only Ari Thor is tempted to consider that it might not be an accident; but when a woman is found bleeding to death in the snow a few days later, the town is gripped by fear of itself. Cue avalanche.

So let’s start on my issues: predictability, clearly. This isn’t really a gripe – the expected elements give the novel some structure for Jonasson to wrap his mystery around. However, the author loses stars for stooping to the old trick of having Ari Thor have conversations on page without letting you know what gets said – just that he is told things that let him (but not the audience) know what’s going on. This is an absolute killer for me as it feels lazy, especially when there are so many other ingredients that would let him maintain tension more cleverly.

The choice to use multiple POV characters is also a difficult one for me here. On the one hand, we get glimpses into the lives and sadnesses of a range of tiny-town Icelanders, and that’s fascinating. Plus it does prevent the old issue of only glimpsing one, so knowing they will be murderer or victim. But combined with the writing style, it makes for a slightly choppy read, especially as there’s typically only one brief POV from each of them. It puts me in mind of a TV script rather than a book – here’s a quick intro to each of our principals. We’ll be suspecting all of them, folks.

However, I’ll be honest – these are fairly minor gripes. It’s a perfectly serviceable fast-read potboiler (and would in fact make highly entertaining tv), if not the more nuanced, more atmospheric novel I was hoping for. Indriðason doesn’t have to worry about his king of Icelandic crime title quite yet.