An Icelandic chiller
Snowblind echoes remote island's stark beauty

An Icelandic chiller
Jeffrey Mannix - 05/02/2017

Beautiful is not usually a descriptor applied to crime fiction, but it’s the first word that comes to mind when introducing Icelandic writer Ragnar Jónasson’s debut novel Snowblind. And we might as well add stunning to describe Quentin Bates’ English translation, and let’s blow the doors off and call Snowblind one of the 10 best works of fiction you’ll read this year and predict that it will win awards in at least one of the world’s handful of literary prize-giving organizations. If Jónasson weren’t from Iceland, he’d win recognition, too.     

With Iceland’s literacy rate highest in the world, coupled with the bleak beauty of this country touching the Arctic Circle, some of the best noir crime fiction oozes out of this remote island. To mention a few writers, there are Yrsa Sigurdardóttir and Óttar M. Nordfjörd as well as Arnaldur Indridason, who started me reading crime fiction with his 1993 Jar City, which became an international phenomenon. And now with his first novel, after being known for translating 14 of Agatha Christie’s mysteries into Icelandic, Jónasson hovers near the top of Iceland’s literati as well.

Snowblind is the story of young Ari Thór Arason, adrift in his twenties, living in the capitol city Reykjavik with Kristín, who is focused on medical school. Ari Thór gives up his attempt at theology and philosophy degrees and in an unlikely alternation, enrolls in police college. He’s encouraged by Kristín, who has fitted their lives together as the happy couple they have up to now been. 

Before Ari gets to his final exams, he gets a phone call from the chief and one of the two policemen in the northern coastal village of Siglufjördur – population 1,200 and dwindling – offering him the option of finishing his final term while on duty. He must accept the posting on the phone or lose the opportunity, and with feverish imprudence, he accepts and sheepishly breaks the news to Kristín. It is this solitary action that portends our first gossamer glimpse of Ari Thór’s drama.

Snowblind is fueled by the goings on in The Dramatic Society of Siglufjördur and its octogenarian chairman, literary celebrity Hrólfur Kristjánsson. There is also the new ingénue from the far western spit of land called Westifjords, and an ensemble of characters who nearly thrive in a town where snow closes access for most of the year and all the residents are below average. This is a town of secrets, where Ari Thór learns quickly to trust no one, where secrets and lies are a way of life. It’s a place to yearn, wither, suffer and regret silently as the relentless snow. Jónasson depicts this elegiac state through the heart and initiative of young Ari Thór – a decent human being – and it is quite beautiful.

Then one day, the octogenarian Hrólfur is found dead and reeking of alcohol at the bottom of the stairs in the community theater. The death is assumed to be an accident by the police chief but not by the eager initiate Ari Thór. The plot thickens when, soon after, when a young woman is found lying half naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious – “The red stain was like a scream in the silence.”

Snowblind is published in hardcover by Thomas Dunne for Minotaur Books, the leading publisher of crime fiction. Again, for the cost of lunch at a slow food joint, you will be transported to adventure in a far-off land and have a book you will surely want to reread and lend to friends.

 

Top Shelf

Russell, Ramblin' Jack and a Night at the Opera
Russell, Ramblin' Jack and a Night at the Opera
By Chris Aaland
09/20/2018

I must admit that I love my professional life, balancing radio and writing. Ever since 1987 when I stumbled through an interview with Warren Zevon for KDUR and the FLC Independent, I’ve been hooked.

The blues, the whole blues, and nothing but the blues
The blues, the whole blues, and nothing but the blues
By Chris Aaland
09/13/2018

And so it ends. The last major blowout of festival season is upon us. When the Bones of J.R. Jones strikes their first note at Sunset Plaza in Mountain Village at 5 p.m. tonight (Thur., Sept. 13), the 25th annual Telluride Blues & Brews will officially be under way. Denver’s Dragondeer follows.

Ska-nniversary, joining the circus & Twin Buttes bash
Ska-nniversary, joining the circus & Twin Buttes bash
By Chris Aaland
09/06/2018

Ska Brewing’s 23rd Anniversary and Brewers Invitational takes place from 4-9 p.m. Saturday at the World Headquarters in Bodo Park.

Four Corners folks, Sneaky Pete and motorcycles
Four Corners folks, Sneaky Pete and motorcycles
By Chris Aaland
08/30/2018

The 23rd annual Four Corners Folk Festival takes place Friday through Sunday on Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Stay golden
Stay golden
By Stephen Eginoire
09/20/2018

With the summer of 2018 vanished in a literal cloud of smoke, it’s time to embrace the present and hurry on out to your local aspen grove before it’s too late! This year’s truly exceptional supply of color won’t be lasting much longer.

On the Rocks
On the Rocks
By Stephen Eginoire
09/13/2018

Does the incredibly fast-paced world of outdoor sports make you anxious? Is your bike too nice to ride? Perhaps the abundance of trail-panache has made you self-conscious.

Gone to Press
Gone to Press
By Stephen Eginoire
09/06/2018

As crisp mornings give way to shorter days, harvest season has begun. In Montezuma County, this year’s apple crop has been remarkable.

Let the good times roll
Let the good times roll
By Stephen Eginoire
08/30/2018

It’s that time of year again. Turn up the Steppenwolf, cinch the do-rag and juice the throttle, ’cause the open road is calling

Read All in Day on the Life