It continues to feel like a time to escape from the reality, to turn the rolling news and speculation off and pick up a book you can lose yourself in. So that’s what I’ve been doing, continuing on the thriller treadmill with some authors I know and trust. In this instance, I’ve gone back to Iceland and the excellent series by Ragnar Jonasson. Jonasson is a master at conveying the darkness, claustrophobia and closeness of rural Iceland, in this case added to by a disease which has left the town quasi-quarantined.
The two plot strands here are very different and unrelated, if bearing some similar elements: one about a fifty-plus years-old mystery of a missing boy and a possible murder; and the other about a recent snatching of a child and hit-and-run killing. Ari Thor, the young, quiet, awkward but impressive policeman at the centre of the novels, is primarily focused on the former (which I personally found less interesting and engaging) while the latter is primarily pursued by the journalist Isrun – and that strand held more interest, drama and tension for me. One can’t help wondering if Jonasson is meeting the limits of what is possible or reasonable in a small rural town in Iceland in terms of crime, so this helps by expanding his scope to Reykjavik (having said that, it never stopped Midsomer).
For me, Jonasson is primarily a master of character, slowly unpeeling new elements of the protagonists and their relationships: illnesses, parental fractures, marriage strains and more. And yet he never seems to slip into the ‘hard-drinking, music-loving, wife-annoying’ cliche of other police procedurals, but just bring more realism. The other thing I like about his novels, which take them a notch above more standard fare, is the atmospheric tone. Whether you’ve been to Iceland or not, you can’t read this book and not feel like you have – peering through the gloom, looking for answers. Top stuff.
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