Bump this book to the top of your Christmas reading list. White Out isn’t just set in the snowbound, windswept, wildlands of mid-winter Iceland, but the investigation actually takes place during the festive season. A young woman is found dead on the sea shore, beneath the cliffs where stand an isolated lighthouse and a tiny community which cling to the frozen landscape in this remote region.
Her death alone would be tragic enough, but investigator Ari Thór soon discovers there is much more to this claustrophobic mystery. The woman’s death has eerie echoes from a generation ago, when both her mother and her sister died in similar circumstances. What insanity haunts the women in this family?
The Dark Iceland books form one of those relentlessly rewarding slow-burn Scandi crime series. The dark revelations are quietly delivered; the drama is on an intensely personal, human scale. Yet it’s far from being relentlessly miserable – the investigation is handled in an entirely matter of fact and modern manner. Ari Thór’s professional and domestic situations provide a solid counterbalance to the deception and disgrace which he gradually uncovers.
White Out should also appeal to readers who enjoy traditional murder-mysteries; it shares many similarities with a locked room mystery of the Agatha Christie era. Ari Thór uncovers the truth about the sudden deaths using patient enquiry, witness questioning and a process of elimination, peeling back a generation’s worth of lies to expose the guilty parties. Don’t expect any wild goose chases, random plot twists or absurd action sequences. Do settle down for a rewarding read, intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
I’ve dipped in and out of this series and had no trouble playing catch-up with the regular characters here. If you’ve not read any before it should be fine to start with White Out. As usual, the translation by Quentin Bates flows beautifully. He has a confident familiarity with the understated style of the Icelandic original, and blends it with the easy fluidity of a natural-born English speaker.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
White Out by Ragnar Jónasson is available as an ebook, paperback or audiobook
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