Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
‘Snowflake’ has become a term of abuse recently among the hard of thinking but the Icelandic flakes that fall during the denouement of Whiteout are made of stern stuff (as well as of frozen water):
The snowflakes reminded Ari Thór of the fact that this was, after all, Christmas Eve. They were serene, majestic and impartial, these tiny sparkling crystals; it didn’t bother them that one of the people outside of the church might be a murderer.
This Christmas showdown brings to an end an especially unusual instalment of the Dark Iceland series (for UK readers it brings the series as a whole to an end since we’ve had it in an odd order). Whiteout sees Ragnar Jónasson push the locked door mystery to its limits. The other novels take place in towns like Siglufjörður which are for various reasons (snow, volcanic activity etc.) cut off from the world. This one is set in a village with two houses and a lighthouse, which makes Siglufjörður (population: 1,200) sound like Mumbai in comparison. There are four people – OK, maybe five – who could have dunnit, and one of them gets bumped off during the novel. They all sit around a lot and gloss over their mutual indifference to talk about not very much. The atmosphere is icy and the pace is glacial. (Sorry.) But the result is brilliant, as the hard shells the characters have built up over the years are gradually scraped away. And we don’t really notice that the pace is slow; it’s presented as a natural function of this place of brooding isolation, a place of great beauty but of terrible overpowering sadness.
Time has passed these inhabitants by; in some ways life has passed them by, and the contrast between them and the detectives Tómas and Ari Thór and their families is clearly shown. For once, we spend a bit of time with Ari Thór’s girlfriend Kristín, and as the couple prepare to become parents there’s plenty of opportunity for Ari Thór to think about the duty that each generation owes to those before and after it. The blurb on the back of my proof copy says the detectives must race against the clock, which is in some ways a nice red herring, until you think about what the clock signifies.
Christmas looms large across the novel: indeed, it’s everywhere from the rhythms of community tradition, to the symbolism of a birth. We know Ragnar Jónasson is a huge Agatha Christie devotee and I start to write ‘Hercule Poirot’s Christmas this is not’ – but actually I can think of a couple of similarities. One relates to a plot point so I’ll leave it for you to discover, but both novels explore ideas of blame, bitterness and revenge. There’s also more than a consideration of power and loyalty. It’s no doubt dumb luck but the issues right at the heart of the crime are also extremely topical.
As usual, the language is sparse and unflowery. It’s exactly what we need and Quentin Bates has done an ace job in translation.
Raise a glass to Tómas and Ari Thór at Christmas, and go read this book.
The end of the Dark Iceland series means that those people who have been hanging on, so that they can read it in the right order, can fill their boots. (There is a prequel, which features Ari Thór’s pre-police life, but as of now I know of no plans for an English translation.) Here’s the right order for the series, with links to the coverage here on Cafethinking:
Whiteout (you’ve just read the review, obviously)
And, since we are part of the Whiteout blog tour, you should check out what others have to say. Check out the tour schedule here.
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.