The Darkness – Ragnar Jónasson


Author: Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Victoria Cribb)

Publisher: Penguin Books UK

Where to buy: Amazon UK

From the volcanic lava fields of Iceland, slowly, inexorably grinding its way towards your eyes…a glacier of blurb:

“A young woman is found dead on a remote Icelandic beach.

She came looking for safety, but instead she found a watery grave.

A hasty police investigation determines her death as suicide . . .

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.

What she discovers is far darker than suicide . . . And no one is telling Hulda the whole story.

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.”

There are few things in life that I truly love: I love my kids; I love Queen: I love Laurel and Hardy; I love insects (in an entomological sense, not in some messed up sexy way, just so you know); and I love Icelandic authors and their bloody brilliant Icelandic fiction. I bloody well do, let me tell you! It all began with Analdur Indriðason and his superb Erlender series of books, starting with Jar City. I loved the unfamiliar setting of the book, and the long, unpronounceable words and places. But, armed with Google translate, I slowly got my tongue around them and now I think I’m getting pretty good at pronouncing them. Oh I’m sure any Icelander would piss themselves laughing at my efforts, but I hope I can do them just a little justice. From Analdur I discovered the wonder that is Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, the exciting new author Lilja Sigurðardóttir (also, let’s not forget Quentin Bates and his wonderful Gunnhilder series. Quentin is a British writer, but has translated many of these authors and his books are set in Iceland), and, of course, the star of this review: Ragnar Jónasson. Yaayyyy, go Ragnar…whoop whoop…!!

The Darkness are a UK hard rock band whose breakout song “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” was released in…..oh, hang on…..sorry, that’s not right, bloody Google…..bear with me….ok, let’s start again:

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This is not The Darkness you are looking for. These guys are known for catchy riffs, falsetto vocals, and tongue-in-cheeks lyrics, NOT dark, gritty, compelling Icelandic fiction, like wot Ragnar does. So, now you know.

The Darkness is the first book in a new series from Ragnar featuring his new detective DI Hulda Hermannsdóttir. Called “Hidden Iceland”, this series will stand apart from his more well known “Dark Iceland” books set in the remote northern town of Siglufjörður and featuring Ari Thór. The unusual thing about this series is that it will be told in reverse. That is to say that The Darkness, although being the first book to be released, is actually the final book in the series. The next book, The Island, will be set 25 years earlier, in 1988. Yes, it’s a mindbender, innit? But if this is the first (last) book in the series, I can’t bloody well wait to read the rest. I have to know how Hulda gets to where we see her now.

When we first meet her Hulda is a Detective Inspector at the end of her career. Unfortunately for Hulda, it’s an end that comes rather quicker than she was anticipating as she is forced into early retirement by her superiors, who take on her replacement before she has even cleared her desk. As you can imagine, this takes Hulda totally by surprise and she is forced to take the retirement without any recognition for her years and years of loyal and successful service to the police. She is devastated, her caseload is reassigned, but she manages to convince her boss, Magnús, to let her investigate a cold case of her choosing. Well, this isn’t strictly true, Magnús suggests that she could investigate a cold case to ease his guilt at effectively firing her, but Hulda tells herself that she has his blessing anyway, and begins her investigation into an apparent suicide of a young Russian asylum seeker, Elena.

Hulda is yet another great creation by Ragnar to stand alongside Ari Thór. She’s a clever and very determined woman. She’s faced years of male chauvinism during her career in the police, and has repeatedly hit the glass ceiling that prevents her from gaining the recognition she truly deserves. She has suffered tragedy in her personal life too, but there is a light on the horizon in the form of her friend Pétur, a retired doctor with whom she feels she may have a future with; a chance to be happy once again. Her investigation into the death of Elena isn’t a smooth one though. She begins to uncover errors in the original investigation that shows up her colleagues and superiors, rubbing them up the wrong way in the process. She also oversteps the mark and treads on all the wrong toes as she follows up leads that she really should have checked out beforehand. Then there is an act of misguided kindness that comes back to bite her on her recently retired arse in a big way. Seriously, can this woman catch a break? The answer is no, no she can’t. Ragnar, how can you sleep at night?

The Darkness really is a superior novel and another blinding book from Ragnar. It spins its web expertly, building up the twists and turns, slowly revealing the truth of the sad fate of Elena, before it kicks you in the face with a size ten hobnailed boot and it all comes to a truly unexpected and terrifying climax. Bloody hell, Ragnar.  Now I really  want to know how you can sleep at night 😉 This is no real spoiler, by the way, as every review, by-line and quote has mentioned this. I’m not really a fan of knowing that there is a “shocking twist” or a “sudden and chilling reveal that will leave you reeling” when going into a book (I made those quotes up, btw; they’re not related to this book), but it’s hard to avoid it these days, so I figured that there’s little point in trying to here. Sorry about that. This is possibly the darkest of Ragnar’s novels yet; The Darkness really is a very pertinent and prescient title that works on several layers as you’ll find out (because you are going to read this book. If you aren’t, get the hell outta my blog! Go on…shoo..away with you!). It is quite different in tone to the Dark Iceland series; where Ari’s story starts off with him feeling alone and isolated in Siglufjörður, it ultimately moves forward and his story becomes more positive and there is light on his horizon, whereas with Hulda’s story everything goes to shit for her from one moment to the next, casting a very different tone throughout. The shift in direction just goes to show what a true talent Ragnar truly is. His characters are utterly believable, his plots beautifully structured and unexpected even when you think you know where they are going, and they compel you to want to find out more.

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Ragnar Jónasson: Look at his little face 🙂 He’s from Iceland and he doesn’t appear to be wearing a t-shirt, or a vest. He’ll catch his death, dressed like that. And then what will we read eh? Ragnar? Eh? Yeah, you hadn’t thought of that now, had you!

As I mentioned earlier this series is running backwards. It’s a clever and interesting idea that will shed further light on Hulda and her past. It is going to be fun to see how events in the past shape the woman we think we know and has become at the start of this book. I for one can’t bloody wait to see what Ragnar has in store for Hulda in the future.

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What Doc Brown said 🙂

Highly recommended 5/5

2 thoughts on “The Darkness – Ragnar Jónasson

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