If Ragnar Jónasson was a painter, he’d be a meticulous minimalist, quietly capturing the essence of commonplace events in a low-key life – and then revealing a dazzling, broad canvas which weeps with compassion for the human condition. The Darkness, a standalone investigation set in Iceland, may easily be his best work yet translated into English. It’s unpretentiously powerful and deeply poignant, and presents a genuinely shocking ending, one which demands you take seriously the events that precede it.
Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir’s face doesn’t fit in the modern day Reykjavík police force. She’s being nudged – none too nicely – into early retirement. Given a single week to wrap up an old, cold case (basically, to keep her out of trouble while the paperwork is processed), she chooses to investigate an overlooked death of an immigrant asylum seeker. No one else, it appears, cares about the death of this young woman on a windswept shoreline – which means that her killer could be free to stalk and snare his next victim…
Or not. It might be that this death was nothing more than a sad accident, and Hulda is bullishly pursuing it to avoid facing the reality of her situation. The Darkness reveals almost unbearable insights into the lonely world of an isolated older woman, caught at one of life’s critical turning points.
Hulda might be on the brink of a new relationship, with distant horizons stretching before her. But instead she seems shackled by the unresolved pain of her childhood, and bitter secrets from her married years. Distressed and distracted, she blunders through her awkward investigation, making new enemies at every turn.
I can’t say that reading this book was an entirely enjoyable experience… but I couldn’t tear myself away from Hulda’s continuing cascade of mistakes and their horrible consequences.
The Darkness makes a great companion piece to Leif Persson’s The Dying Detective, which features another experienced police officer at the end of his career. But the two couldn’t be more different in style; Ragnar Jónasson writes with stark simplicity, and his Icelandic noir has all the more impact for its lack of unnecessary embellishment.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Darkness is available in multiple formats at Amazon