Newly translated into English, this 2010 Icelandic novel is a real find. The first in a series set in the northernmost regions of Iceland, we meet main character Ari Thor in Snowblind as he graduates from the police academy and takes his first job in tiny Siglufjörur, far from his medical student girlfriend in Reykjavik. He’s puzzled when she is angry that he’s taken the post without consulting her, which tells you right away he is slightly clueless about women.
He is not clueless about crime, however, and he heads north, to Siglufjörur, a remote village accessible only by a mountain pass. Ari moves into the house provided for him by the police department. It is old, creepy, and claustrophobic, and Ari can only sleep when he parks his bed under a skylight in one of the bedrooms. When a local writer, famous for having written a treasured classic, is found dead in an apparent accident, and soon after a young woman clad only in her jeans is found dead in the snow, Ari Thor’s mind is captured and he gets to work exploring connections.
This is almost a classic Scandinavian noir setup, but Ragnar Jónasson is full of surprises as he positions his new detective in a place only slightly removed from the Arctic Circle, in a town blasted with constant snowstorms, and frequently cut off from the rest of the country when avalanches block the mountain pass. The author then proceeds to create a traditional locked-room mystery scenario. I loved it.
The town is populated with memorable characters, almost like a British village cozy: the retired executive, the shy, pining loner; the capable-but-quiet carpenter; the gambler; the piano teacher—each new, yet somehow also comfortable and familiar. Ari’s boss is sure the writer’s death is an accident, but we mystery readers know that can’t be true.
The suffocating snowstorms and Ari’s rising feeling of being trapped in his new town lend an air of urgency to his investigation. The turns of the plot are clever and unexpected, and Ari is a wonderful character to spend time with as he puzzles his way through his new job and a thicket of emotions related to his far away girlfriend. The resolution is well earned and thought out, making this a very satisfying read. If you have ever had a secret desire to travel to Iceland, however, this may give you cold feet. Brrr.