I was eager to read Snowblind after seeing the author talk about it so inspiringly on a couple of panels at ‘Crimefest’ recently. I bought the book there.
Crime fiction is currently at an interesting stage of development. Its popularity continues to burgeon, new sub-genres are emerging all the time and cross-genre novels – which publishers avoided for a long time – are becoming increasingly common. In addition, new countries are entering the market, including translated works. To me, Snowblind epitomises exactly this sort of exciting, new cross-genre fiction. It is a fusion of Nordic Noir (with landscape, weather and socio-economic issues featuring, and a dark atmosphere) and Golden Age detective fiction, with Christie-esque plotting, characterisation and narrative techniques (a crime at the theatre and a type of locked room mystery).
The protagonist, Ari Thór Arason, a rookie detective, takes a post in the north of Iceland in Siglufjörður, a town which can only be accessed via a mountain tunnel, where the newspapers arrive after midday and where no-one locks their doors because the place is so safe. Ari Thór is determined to get to the bottom of an apparently accidental death of an author at the local theatre. When this death is followed by a brutal and bloody attack on a local woman, Ari Thór has to overcome a number of challenges to solve the crimes, some personal and some professional: his relationship with his girlfriend, Kristin, in Reykjavik, seems to be floundering and he is confused about it; the townsfolk are suspicious of him for being from ‘down south’ and for having studied theology; he struggles to cope with the snow and the isolation of the remote location and the gossiping nature of a remote, close knit community. Personally, I love novels where protagonists have a number of obstacles to overcome and the ‘outsider’ theme hits the spot for me: psychologically, interesting dynamics often ensue.
The plotting is intricate and has many ‘Christie’ hallmarks, as you might expect from the man who has translated fourteen of her novels into Icelandic. Jónasson sets up a number of possible culprits and I had no idea ‘who dunnit’. The final denouement is fascinating and satisfying.
I found Snowblind a relaxing, gentle read. It isn’t ‘noir’ in the sense of American Noir. Nor is it like the Scandi Noir of Larsson or Nesbo (in my opinion). The violence and fast pace of Larsson and Nesbo are tempered in Snowblind by the Golden Age influences. I particularly enjoyed the labyrinthine plotting and the landscape descriptions, and the latter serve to create a relentlessly bleak and oppressive setting. I found the main character, Ari Thór, intriguing. Various questions are posed about him. Why has he started and stopped so many things in his life? What is going to happen with Kristin and how is he able to leave her so easily? How has the death of his parents affected him? As Snowblind is part of a series, I look forward to finding out more about him in the next instalment.
Vicky Newham © 2015