Today, it’s my turn on the blog tour for Winterkill. Sometimes it’s good to come in at the end of a series of books. If you enjoy that final volume, it makes you want to go back and explore all the others. This was definitely the case with Icelandic police procedural Winterkill for me, although there is nothing final about the end of the book, I guess the author is moving on to characters anew. No matter, that gives me five more volumes from Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series which began with Snowblind in 2015, plus the first two of his ‘Hidden Iceland’ series.
The ‘Dark Iceland’ books are set in and around the town of Siglufjörður, (pronounced ‘Siglue-fyoer-thur), Iceland’s northernmost town, now emerging as a skiing resort. Ari Thór Arason is the town’s police inspector now, Tómas, his old boss, moved to Reykjavik, leaving Ari Thór to take on his own apprentice Ögmundur in turn as Tómas did for him.
As the novel begins, it’s nearly Easter, and he’s looking forward to the arrival of Kristín and their three-year-old son Stefnir from Sweden where they now live. Ari Thór isn’t hopeful that they can rekindle their relationship, but is looking forward to being a dad again as long as they’re there.
But you know how it goes – just when you hope you’ll get a weekend off, the phone goes. The body of a teenaged girl has been found on the pavement below a balcony several floors up. At first glance, it appears to be suicide, but again, you know how it goes – it’s more of a question did she jump, or was she pushed? The dead girl is soon identified as model student Unnur, a quiet girl with few close friends. Her mother is totally distraught and can’t believe it was suicide. Her father will be flying in from America and will demand answers. Ari Thór isn’t going to get the quiet weekend that he’d planned, but dedicated police officer that he is, he fits in the investigation around re-bonding with his son.
There is a big question over the location, the owner of the flat with the attic balcony has an alibi, the old couple living below him didn’t ‘see’ anything. His investigations gradually reveal a web of connections, complicated when an old flame, Ugla, contacts him. She now works at a new care home, and one of the residents had a moment of clarity, writing ‘she was murdered’ all over his wall. Is this linked to Unnur’s death, or is it something else?
The whole novel takes place over the five days of the Easter weekend. It’s all tied up in one way or another by the end of Monday. Ari Thór is dogged in his investigation, uncovering more information all the time, but it is some time before it all pulls together and he is sure of the sequence of events.
Siglufjörður is a small-enough town that all the long-term residents know each other. I liked that Ari Thór was only just beginning to feel like he belonged after some years living there, he still doesn’t know everyone, which of course rather hampers his investigations. Before, Tómas was in charge, now it’s just Ari Thór and the greenhorn Ögmundur, but Tómas is available to nudge at the end of the phoneline. In Ari Thór, Ragnar Jónasson has created a refreshingly normal police officer, with no vices, other than he can’t ski. As the novel goes on you can see him growing into his new inspector role, but also as a Siglufjörður-der (I’m guessing there, but you know what I mean).
One note on the translation. The previous five books in this series were translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates. This final one was translated from the French edition by David Warriner, thus a translation of a translation, one step removed from the original language – I assume Bates was unavailable. I’m sure that Warriner will have read the other books to ensure consistency; not having read them I can’t comment, but I don’t think I’ve encountered this before in a novel.*
That said, I enjoyed this dose of Nordic noir very much, and am looking forward to reading some of the previous volumes and getting to know Ari Thór and this part of Iceland better.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Ragnar Jónasson, Winterkill (Orenda Books, Jan 2021) paperback, 240 pages.
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*The publisher clarified that the book was first published in French, hence this translation route. I checked the French edition and it was translated from the Icelandic…