I’ve heard so many great things about Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series, his writing and his characters (all positive, of course) and I can without a shadow of a doubt say it’s so true. I approached Blackout, the third book, with an open mind, trying not to be swayed by other reviews and I didn’t expect to be so intrigued and attached to the characters as I was. I’m skipping ahead of myself as usual – here’s what it’s about first.
On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance.
Ari Thor Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjordur struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies.
Cor blimey! What a novel. I’m trying to contain my excitement (just a tad) but I really, like really, enjoyed reading Blackout for a few reasons. I may have to list them (obviously without spoilers) so that I get it out coherently and don’t miss anything. So here goes.
1. You don’t feel as if you’re kept in the dark about the main character’s former life
I’m naughty, I haven’t read Snowblind or Nightblind, yet, but I didn’t feel as if it limited my knowledge of the story, or the main character, Ari Thor Arason. You know sometimes when you begin mid-series, there are jokes you don’t get or an obvious tension between characters, and it’s so obvious that you have to go back and read the previous books to get it. You don’t have to do that with Blackout as Jónasson ties things up neatly from the first to the last page. He’s achieved the perfect balance of backstory, fears, doubts, questions about characters and a resolution in a short space.
2. Each character has space to ‘be’ and it’s not overpowering
Although the novel follows Ari Thor, a police officer in Siglufjordur, we’re introduced to his colleagues, Tomas and Hlynur, and we get a sense of their characters quite quickly.
There’s the reporter, Ísrún, who’s mistreated in her job by her manager, and so she decides to go behind his back to get her ‘big break’. I felt connected to Ísrún immediately because of her quest for answers, her determination and her attitude to being looked down upon by her manager – she never sulked, she fought to rise above it.
And at the heart of the story is the man who’s been murdered. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there’s a massive search into the victim’s life, and it takes a lot out of all of the characters involved, yet it’s so intriguing. Jónasson’s treatment of each character is wonderfully done and it never felt as if he was trying to do too much with any one character, rather they were all links on a chain. Without them, Blackout would be missing something.
3. Every character’s facing a huge battle
Now, usually some characters in books seem to have the perfect life and you kind of just hate them because everything’s so neatly wrapped up for them. Surprisingly, every single character in this book faced some kind of hardship, which made me like them even more. I found myself empathising with them because their pain, difficult circumstance or regret at their life choices made for an interesting read – it kept me reading to find out where they’d all end up.
Regret is one of the major themes in this book and it’s for good reason too. Most of the characters use this feeling to right a wrong, find answers or help someone else because of what had happened at one stage in their lives. It’s a pretty powerful tool and it just works.
4. Loose strings are tied up but not in the way I would’ve expected (no spoilers, I promise)
You know when you get to the last 1/4 of the book and then all of the answers to the 101 questions/scenarios that arose earlier in the book come flooding in, some of which you think are absolutely ludicrous? Not this book. I thought I had the resolution pinned down and that it was ‘easy’ to guess who did it, who would end up where and why, because, well I underestimate Jónasson’s ability at creating such a clever crime novel. I was pleasantly surprised and what unfolded and I can only praise this novel, for it’s brilliance.
This is one book you won’t be disappointed by. It’s short but packs the most powerful punch! It’s official, Jónasson has written himself into my heart and onto my list of great crime writers.
Where to buy
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