Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson

Last year, I made my first step into Nordic Noir, with the hauntingly brilliant Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson. Whilst a bit of a slow starter, I fell in love with it as Jónasson took the reader on a trip through the Icelandic landscape as he introduced them to his main protagonist, Ari Thór Arason. I had been eagerly awaiting the sequel after getting a taster at the end of Snowblind and I had the pleasure of reading it this week.

Nightblind rejoins Ari Thór five years later, still in the sleepy, although now not quite so sleepy, town of Siglufjördur. He is back with girlfriend, Krísten, and they have had a son, Stefnir. However, the book’s opening chapter starts with the new police inspector, Herjólfur, as he investigates suspicious activity at a house on the outskirts of the town. As a gun is fired at Herjólfur, Ari Thór’s latest investigation begins as he tries to find out who shot his boss.

Nightblind seems to be faster paced than Snowblind, which makes for a really exciting read. Ari Thór is still as neurotic as he was in Snowblind, not having developed much in that respect over the years, but his instincts have definitely been honed as he navigates the investigation with an intuitive sense for spotting liars and potential clues, rather than acting on impulse as he may have done before. Ari Thór’s mentor, Tómas, had moved to Reykjavík in the five years that have passed but returns to help Ari Thór to investigate the shooting of Herjólfur. However, while Tómas is there to oversee the investigation, he seems to allow Ari Thór more control over making decisions on how to proceed.

Jónasson, as with Snowblind, writes so beautifully, and with the translation, again by Quentin Bates, the narrative is quite simply stunning. The descriptions of the Siglufjördur landscape is breathtaking, and given the excerpt at the back of the book of his Grandfather’s description of Siglufjördur, it is clear to see where Jónasson gets his talent from. Jónasson also uses pathetic fallacy to full effect again, to build up the tension purely from the ominous surroundings.

Along with the familiar characters of Ari Thór, Tómas and Krísten, the reader is introduced to a new set of characters for this story. Of course, their is Herjólfur and his family, but there is also a political contingent as the new mayor and his deputy are embroiled in the investigation. Gunnar Gunnarson and Elín Reyndal are suspects, if not of the actual shooting, of having some kind of involvement in criminal activity. As the powers-that-be cross paths with the criminals of Siglufjördur, Jónasson adds plenty of twists and turns to throw the reader off the trail. In retrospect, the clues are all there, they are just well hidden amongst the various paths that Jónasson encourages the reader to take.

The structure of the novel, as with Snowblind, is also geared towards distracting the reader. In Snowblind, the structure of the chapters was linear, with every other chapter written in italics, describing events from an undisclosed place and time. Nightblind also takes this structure, but it is clear from the beginning that the italic chapters are also in a linear structure. However, it is unclear as to whether the timelines for each storyline runs parallel.

Without giving too much away, there is an overarching theme of a particular type of crime throughout the novel  which is not apparent until the final chapters.  The clever thing about this novel is that the reader is oblivious to this turn of events until the reveal which is a testament to Jónasson’s skill for keeping the reader guessing. This continuation throughout adds a sense of depth to the novel which enhances the reading experience and gives the overall novel a kind of symmetry.

Yet again, Jónasson has written a fantastic novel and a very worthy sequel to Snowblind. In fact, I preferred this novel to the first. The faster pace and practically no pre-amble to the action made it a more enjoyable read for me and I liked to see that Ari Thór had progressed in the time between the two novels. The structure works well for Jónasson and adds a sufficient amount of confusion to aid the mystery. However, as with Snowblind, it is the use of the landscape that makes this novel so special. It would be well worth a read simply for the sublime visual images that Jónasson places so perfectly into the reader’s imagination, translated so beautifully by Quentin Bates. As I understand it, there are two more books in this series, and I am very much looking forward to reading them. For anyone like me who is new to Nordic Noir, I cannot think of a better place to start than with these two books.