The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson: A review





This is the first of Ragnar Jonasson's three-book series featuring detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police. Jonasson made the unusual decision to write the ending of Hulda's story first, and so in this book, we learn how it all turned out. The two later books will provide her earlier backstory. It's an interesting strategy and since I haven't yet read the other two books I can't judge how well it works overall but the story in this book worked well. It could easily be read as a standalone.

We meet Hulda when she is 64 years old and she is being forced to take early retirement by the department. This is very much against her will as she doesn't have much of a life outside of her job. She dreads the loneliness of no longer having the job to look forward to each day. She is told that she must leave in two weeks. During that time she will be allowed to work on one cold case of her choosing. She knows which one she will choose.

The previous year the body of a young woman had washed up on the shore. She was a Russian refugee who was seeking asylum in Iceland. The detective who was assigned to the case gave it short shrift. He took a cursory look at the case and decided it must have been suicide, assuming that the woman was despondent over her situation. The authorities accepted his assessment, ruled the death a suicide and the case was closed. Hulda suspects this was an error. She will now give the case a thorough investigation.

She soon uncovers information that the dead woman was not at all despondent, that in fact she had just been approved for asylum in the country and was looking forward to the future. Hulda also finds that there was another young Russian refugee woman, a friend of the deceased, who had disappeared around the same time. Apparently, no one ever looked for her or tried to find out what had happened to her.

Hulda is appalled that these two women were simply thrown away by her society and by the police department that never gave them justice. She is determined to uncover the secret of what happened to them. But as she digs deeper, she suspects that people are lying to her or not telling her the whole truth and even her own department seems determined to put the brakes on her investigation. Meantime, the time left to her in the job is slipping away. Will she be able to solve her last case before the time runs out?

Hulda is a fascinating character. The Darkness might refer to her own past that we learn is filled with tragedy and memories of her own failures. She is very good at her job but seems to have faced the misogyny and discrimination that is so much a part of the lives of many working women. She doesn't really have friends or anyone to whom she can confide and receive support. She is the very definition of loneliness. Perhaps it is because of that loneliness that she is able to empathize so readily with the victims in her cold case, because, as we will learn, they are victims.

Goodreads' synopsis of this book describes it as an "atmospheric thriller" which is an apt characterization. Jonasson builds the atmosphere of darkness and dread methodically and skillfully as he takes us toward a conclusion that is a gut punch and that was totally unexpected. The atmospherics are aided by his vivid descriptions of the Icelandic landscape and climate neither of which seem for the faint-hearted. I was unfamiliar with Jonasson but evidently, he has quite a reputation for Nordic Noir and a number of books to his credit. I look forward to reading the other two books in this series and becoming better acquainted with Hulda Hermannsdóttir.

(I would be remiss if I did not thank my blogging buddy,  Sam Sattler, for recommending this series and this author. It was his intriguing review of this book that led me to read it.)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Comments

  1. I am going to have to find this one, I love the premise!

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  2. That one does sound really good with a good plot too!

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    1. The plot was good and the exposition of the plot was first-rate, I thought.

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  3. I've been tentative re the Scandinavian "dark" mysteries... i've tried several and. been fairly grossed out and didn't finish them... maybe this one is an exception?

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    1. I tried reading some of Jo Nesbo's books and they were just too bloody and too much torture. Couldn't take them. But this one is not like that at all. We'll see how the rest of the series goes.

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  4. Sam's review made me add this book to my TBR list, though I already had Jonasson's book Snowblind on there because I am a fan of Icelandic mysteries. I'm hoping to read both books soon.

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    1. His was certainly a review that piqued interest in this series.

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  5. Dorothy, I'm happy that you enjoyed the book as much as I did. That ending really surprised me, and that doesn't happen nearly enough these days. I think you'll enjoy the next two books in the series a lot, too, even though they hold fewer surprises. Hulda is one of the most memorable characters I've encountered in a while, that's for sure. Seems like Cathy...or someone...mentioned that there is a fourth book in the works right now. Either that, or my wishful thinking has gotten the best of me.

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    1. I'm looking forward to the other books in the series. I hope to get to at least one of them this month.

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  6. I'm glad to find another person who liked The Darkness. That ending really threw me for a loop. I've read all three books in the order they were written, and sometime in the future I intend to read them in chronological order, just to see how Jónasson put everything together. He's become one of my favorite writers. (And I'm with you-- Nesbo isn't my cup of tea either.)

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    1. It's very interesting that the writer published the books in the order that he did. I wonder what led him to that decision. It makes for a unique way of telling the story for sure.

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    2. He came to the US on a short book tour and appeared at my favorite local indie, The Poisoned Pen. Telling the story in the way that he did was an idea that just came to him one day. I know someone who read this book and was so horrified by the ending that she refuses to read any of his other works.

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  7. As one of your earlier followers wrote, I love the premise of this novel. I will be adding it to my reading wishist. I look forward to reading your reviews for the remaining books in this series.

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    1. I've finished the other two books now. I'll likely publish the review either this week or next.

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    2. Impressive how fast you read through books!

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    3. I've been reading mysteries this month and they are generally fast reads. The down side is I am WAY behind on my reviews!

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