Book review: Blackout by Ragnar Jónasson

1139062It’s perhaps appropriate after the Iceland football team’s brilliant summer that Blackout should be a novel of two halves. It seems at times as though the first half of the book builds a careful foundation, focusing on setting up the characters and the premise, overshadowed by the menace of the volcanic eruption. The second half takes place at a cracking pace, and fully justifies the earlier investment.

Curiously, the initial killing that starts the novel is in a way almost incidental. That is not to say that the quest to solve the murder is not recorded or is in any way unsatisfactory, just that the mystery is secondary to the other crimes that are committed and to the wider context. As before in this Dark Iceland series, the mysteries are never an end to themselves but a platform for themes that remain with us long after the case is closed. The structures of the Golden Age whodunit are transformed for a modern audience. As we’ve said before, it’s crime with something to say.

Once again we’re in the hands of Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the Siglufjörður force. And, without wanting to be glib, this is a novel that is unrelenting in its exploration of different types of force, control and coercion. The ash cloud from the eruption is unsettling: this is a reminder that even extreme climes can be disrupted, that the nightless summer can none the less contain an almost invisible danger.

Ragnar Jónasson is very interested in his characters and lets them develop. It’s a mark of the quality of the writing – expertly translated by Quentin Bates – that the publication of the Dark Iceland series out of sequence isn’t too much of an issue: sure, we know how Ari Thór and others resolve some of their differences because we’ve read Nightblind, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth observing their journey. Having said that, if you get the chance, you should read the books in the series, rather than in their published, order.

The ending is rather loose and a little ambiguous and this is appropriate for the issues featured. I don’t know whether some of the newer characters will make it into the next instalment, Rupture, but I hope to meet them again.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.


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