Book Review: The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson

What’s it about?

When Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police is forced into early retirement, she is told she can investigate one last cold case of her choice – and she knows which one. Yet, when her own colleagues try to put the brakes on her investigation, Hulda has just days to discover the truth. A truth she will risk her own life to find.

My thoughts

There’s a definite style to Icelandic crime writing. It’s very straightforward, clear, and almost blunt. It must be a feature of the original language, because I’ve noticed it in the work of Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, as well as Jónasson. (Hark at me, name-dropping Icelandic authors I’ve read). This style means that these books are not hard to read, but deceptively deep. Underestimate these books at your peril. This book in particular lulled me into a false sense of security before culminating in one of the most unexpected and startling endings I’ve read in ages.

The rest of the plot I found to be not as engaging as it could be. There were a few holes and transitions that seemed cobbled together to serve the denouement of the story. It needed a bit more thought. However, it was just as noir as other Icelandic crime novels I’ve read; I particularly liked the noting of the change in weather, possibly because I’m British, but mainly because that really helped develop a sense of place and dreariness.

There’s also the character of Hulda. I think Jónasson was trying to reinvent the old hardboiled detective trope with this parboiled female detective, mostly successfully. She’s as changeable as the Icelandic landscape, and I’m still not sure what to make of her. I don’t know if I like her, but I don’t know if liking her is really necessary. I’d have preferred some of the revelations that crop up in the final chapters to have happened earlier, so as to not distract from the grand finale, but it’s a minor niggle.

This is the first one in a series of three, and I’m keen to see what Jónasson does next. With no spoilers, the way forward from here is ambiguous and I want to see where it goes from here.

Would I recommend it?

Yes, especially if you’re a fan of Scandi-noir.

The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson is published by Michael Joseph priced £12.99.

I received an advance copy to review thanks to NetGalley.

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