REVIEW

Ragnar Jonasson's latest noir thriller, Winterkill, is an engrossing murder mystery

Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson has been obsessed with crime fiction since his youth, notably, from the age of 17, translating 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic.

Johansson lives and works as a lawyer in Reykjavik while writing crime novels. He is also the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival, Icelandic Noir.

Winterkill is the sixth novel in his acclaimed "Dark Iceland" series, set in Siglufjordur, the most northern town in Iceland, featuring his detective, Ari Thor Arason.

In Winterkill, Ari Thor is in his 30s, but he feels "that his life was back to square one". He is estranged from his wife, Kristin, who lives in Sweden and rarely sees his three-year-old son, Stefnir. However, Kristen and Stepnir are returning to Siglifjordur for the Easter long weekend and Ari Thor's "heart was already skipping a beat at the thought of seeing [his son] again".

Although it's Easter, it's still winter in northern Iceland and the weather forecast is predicting heavy snowfalls and blizzard conditions: "That was the thing about winter up here; no sooner had you dug yourself out after one blizzard than you had to prepare for the next one". Ari Thor has been promoted to inspector but since his promotion, "life in Siglufjordur had followed its usual uneventful course and, to his relief, he hadn't had any major crimes to deal with".

But three days before Easter, 19-year-old Unnur is found dead in front of a two storey house, with a rooftop balcony, on the main street. Had she fallen or was she pushed? The preliminary investigation reveals that Unnur was a quiet, well-mannered girl, devoted to her studies, with few friends. No one can understand why she was on the roof of the house, nor why she might have committed suicide.

However, when an elderly, demented man in a nursing home covers the walls of his room repeatedly with "she was murdered" in red felt-tipped pen, Ari Thor begins to wonder if the cause of Unnur's death is more sinister.

Winterkill is an engrossing exploration of life in a seemingly inhospitable place. Ari Thor remembers his first winter in the town with its relentless snowfall, the cold and the darkness, as well as being cut off from the rest of Iceland when avalanches closed the only road into town. The opening of a new tunnel, however, has transformed the town and the life of its citizens, as tourism has "breathed new life" with cafes and restaurants opening around the old harbour.

Read Winterkill not only for Johansson's skill in crafting a classic murder mystery, but also to experience the chill, literally as well as metaphorically, as the blizzard bears down on Ari Thor and his search for a possible murderer.

This story Engrossing and chilly Nordic murder mystery first appeared on The Canberra Times.