The Girl Who Died: off-kilter in Iceland

Ragnar Jónasson is one of my favourite authors, a master at capturing the unique Icelandic environment and drawing it into the narrative of some of the best character-led stories I’ve read. He’s superbly skilled at reflecting the bleakly beautiful aspects of Iceland’s landscape in the tangled threads of his compelling – frequently chilling – mysteries. But this particular story felt completely flat.

It’s a semi-supernatural story of a lonely woman, stalked by her own neuroses and now (perhaps) haunted by a genuine ghost. She lives a lonely life in the big city and becomes even more forlorn when she joins an isolated fishing village as the sole teacher to their two children. She’s barely welcomed by most of the adults; actively threatened by the community bully and ignored by the majority. She finds solace in a wine bottle and starts seeing dead people…

…and then one of her pupils dies in shocking circumstances.

It sounds quite good in synopsis, but the central character simply isn’t interesting enough to carry the weight of the entire narrative. She whines and cringes as the weird coincidences pile up and it was hard to relate to her or feel much sympathy for her self-imposed plight. She’s presumably supposed to be an avatar for ‘hidden women’ everywhere, but she simply comes across as a bit stupid and really rather tiresome. She’s also far too keen to throw herself into the protective arms of the first able suitor, too. So much for the strong female protagonist: this one isn’t even vaguely capable.

There’s an attempt to interweave a more conventional crime-thriller plot in the form of obscure flashbacks. There is in fact a decent plot here, about a criminal evading justice, but it’s buried beneath all the bullying, gaslighting / jumping at shadows stuff.

Not a good introduction to this author, then. It has the feel of an old manuscript, written many moons ago and given a quick polish to fit some modern themes. Or maybe a lockdown project which should’ve remained on the shelf…

I recommend instead the Hulda Hermannsdóttir trilogy, which are modern classics of Icelandic noir – so carefully crafted and perfectly executed that you have to wonder if they’re written by the same hand.

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Girl Who Died
by Ragnar Jónasson is available at Amazon



‘…highly recommended for fans of Nordic noir’

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