Ari Thór Arason has just gained his first posting as a policeman. Unfortunately for his girlfriend Kristin, it takes him to the icy (icier?) north of Iceland, to the village of Siglufjördur. He finds himself struggling to settle in – not really that much of a surprise for a stranger in such an isolated community.
Soon there is a death in the local theatre and the rest of the community are convinced that it was nothing more than an accident. Ari Thór is not so convinced but only succeeds in annoying the local populace even more. But when another act of violence occurs, it seems that there is something dangerous lurking in the darkness…
After a quick check, it seems that Nordic Noir is the correct term for this one, rather than Scandi-Noir. Long term readers will know that this is a genre that I tend to shy away from, despite enjoying my one foray into it – The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg. But that unremitting grimness that is linked (correctly or incorrectly) to the genre put me off from returning.
So why now, when I’m supposed to be reviewing loads of Golden Age stuff? Well, two reasons. First of all, the author followed me on Twitter – what can I say, I’m shallow. And secondly, reviews have described it as… well, this is Spiegel Online (translated, I presume):
“The plot is a successful chamber-play plot, transferred to a village. A classic who-dunnit where a whole theatre group is under suspicion. And in the end the culprit is someone you didn’t expect. What can you ask for more.”
And it is. Plot-wise, everything is there for the alert reader (not me) to get to the bottom of matters, although I think, if such a thing is possible, the clues are hidden too well. But everything is there. But I think what people are reading this one for is the atmosphere and the characterisation.
Every character on the page is a complex character with a deep background and the chapters focussing on those are utterly engrossing. It feels like a real community, admittedly with some unpleasant characters in it. And there is a realism to the denouement as well…
But at the end of the day, as much as the book impressed me, it’s too dark for me. As the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu would attest, “It’s Grim Up North”. There isn’t a glimmer of light for any of the characters. Even David Mark’s black-as-pitch Original Skin has Aector’s relationship with his wife providing a contrast to the darkness, whereas here, our hero’s love life is another problem without an easy solution.
So, a well-crafted mystery novel but not my cup of tea tonally, but then Nordic Noir (in my limited experience) rarely is. I’m sure fans of the sub-genre will absolutely love it.