Ari Thor Arason is a trainee policeman who on an impulse accepts a posting in Siglufjordur, in the far north of Iceland. He leaves his medical student girlfriend behind in Reykjavik, and arrives in the small and isolated village, once busy with the fishing industry but now just a sleepy bywater, where he is told 'nothing ever happens'. Of course, within weeks there are two corpses – one a famous writer found dead at the foot of the stairs of the local theatre on the eve of an amateur production, the other a woman living with the man playing the lead in that production, discovered almost naked, bleeding red into the newly-fallen snow.
Ragnar Jonasson's novel is very much a traditional murder mystery, closer to Yrsa Sigurdardottir than Arnaldur Indridason, which gains much from the isolated setting, in which a whole town is trapped, in effect, by the snow. Amateur dramatics and murder in an isolated setting make it sound very Agatha Christie, but as with Sigurdardottir it's the nature of the people in their isolated society, a world of extremes of light and darkness, that perhaps makes difficult the shadings of gray. It's a tangled web, with each character's back story suggesting more knots, and the past is woven deeply into it: thefts and murders, abuses and illicit loves: sometimes it seems as if no one in this Icelandic milieu possesses a life free of serious damage. And that includes Ari Thor, whose relationship with his girlfriend seems unlikely to survive the great distance, both real and metaphoric, between them.
Ari Thor is an oddly unfinished character, which may suit his relatively naiveté, but it stands in sharp contrast to the more telling bits of exposition the various suspects and victims receive. There's a fascinating dynamic between him and his boss, Tomas, whose live and let live attitude sometimes seems to take on a more sinister connotation, and sometimes seems almost comic: casting him in the film version is an amusing exercise.
In some ways, because Ari Thor 'solves' both deaths, but doesn't get a full measure of justice, this becomes the story of his adjustment to a world much different from the 'big city' of Reykjavik; an adjustment which was at the heart of Indridason's Erlendur series too. The novel's end leaves that story unfinished....
Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson
translated by Quentin Bates
Orenda Books £8.99 ISBN 9781910633038