REVIEW: Whiteout by Ragnar Jonasson (Dark Iceland #5)

Series: Dark Iceland (Ari Thor)

Book Number: 5

Read this book for: classic whodunnit, Nordic noir, Christmas mystery, cold case, family secrets

Quick Review: Another must-read instalment in the Dark Iceland series; a contained, tense, and clever mystery with the dark atmospheric touch this series is known for.

***

Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of the deserted village of Kálfshamarvík.  Did she jump, or did something more sinister take place beneath the lighthouse and the abandoned old house on the remote rocky outcrop? With winter closing in and the snow falling relentlessly, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s mother and young sister also lost their lives in this same spot, twenty-five years earlier. As the dark history and its secrets of the village are unveiled, and the death toll begins to rise, the Siglufjordur detectives must race against the clock to find the killer, before another tragedy takes place. 

WHITEOUT is the latest (fifth) instalment in Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series that follows young police officer Ari Thor through his move to an isolated town in the north of Iceland and the cases he finds to investigate there. WHITEOUT reunites Ari Thor with his old boss as they delve into the death of a young woman who has fallen off the cliffs in an area where both her mother and sister had died twenty five years earlier.

The Dark Iceland series is one of my contemporary favourites, characterized by classic, Christie-style mysteries (click here for reviews of every book in the series) and the lonely, desolate isolation of rural northern Iceland in winter. It’s a brilliant example of the minimal and atmospheric nature of Nordic noir. While you do not strictly have to read any of the other novels in the series in order to follow WHITEOUT, there are minor spoilers in this one for developments in Ari Thor’s various relationships. I would recommend at least checking out SNOW BLIND before moving on to this one!

Jonasson goes back to the essentials of this series in WHITEOUT. Throughout the series he has explored slightly different ways of approaching the story, and WHITEOUT is probably the most minimal instalment yet. Stripping away extra storylines, concurrent investigations, and even most of the killer’s-POV sections that have been used in various combinations throughout the series, WHITEOUT returns to its roots — a mystery both old and new, in a cold and isolated place,  with an atmosphere so brooding that it is palpable.

These are all elements that Jonasson has mastered, so while WHITEOUT is not very long, it is still intensely satisfying. The choice of an isolated house in a ruined and abandoned village on a cliff’s edge and the associated lighthouse would not be out of place in Christie or the horror genre. The mystery of the women’s deaths with only five real possible suspects is reminiscent again of Christie or P.D. James, and the conclusion is one that the clues are there to support — if you have the insight to figure it out before Ari Thor!

All of these elements combine to make WHITEOUT a masterful exercise in “classic” mystery writing. You should absolutely pick up WHITEOUT, and the rest of the Dark Iceland series, and get into the winter mood!

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