Book Review: THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jonasson

Highly atmospheric and evocative, with steadily mounting suspense, The Darkness, the first in a new series by Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson, has all of the grim, bleak moodiness typically associated with Nordic Noir, yet leaves the reader with the contented feeling of having read a work of fiction by a crime writer who has matured and honed his craft. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The main character of this new Hidden Iceland series is Hulda Hermannsdottir. Hulda is a Detective Inspector with the Reykjavik police department. At the beginning of The Darkness, she is notified by her boss that instead of retiring at the end of the year, 64 year old Hulda is being pushed out of the force earlier than planned, made redundant by a younger, male officer who has already been hired, and will take over her office and her job in just two weeks time. Per her boss, she can clear her desk, and leave - with pay, of course - straightaway. Thanks for your decades of service. All of your cases have already been reallocated. Goodbye. But her boss is not putting Hulda out to pasture quite yet. No. At Hulda’s insistence that she stay until her replacement begins, Magnus permits her to look into one, final, cold case of her choosing. The result is Hulda’s reinvigorated sense of purpose, and the reader’s enjoyment of a skillfully-plotted police procedural, with a well-balanced amount of insight into Hulda’s complex and sometimes tragic upbringing and background, as well as a building tension throughout. Readers who are retired, or approaching retirement will especially appreciate, and possibly relate to, much of Hulda’s experience. What an accurate depiction, by a male author (it must be noted), of the yearnings, heartache, and challenges faced, universally, by so many women! The Darkness, expertly-translated by Victoria Cribb, is a Nordic Noir that I could not put down!

In Mr. Jonasson’s books, the remote, treacherous, and unforgiving landscape of Iceland often becomes a character in and of itself, and The Darkness is no different, as this vividly atmospheric novel shifts between “the present”, in the spring, with the life-affirming promise of new beginnings and the light and sunshine of the summertime to come, and flashbacks taking place during Iceland’s long, dark, brutally cold winter.

Just when the reader is lulled into thinking that The Darkness is going to be all about second chances, Mr. Jonasson throws the reader a major curve ball that couldn’t be more worthy of his novel’s sub-genre of Nordic Noir! The Darkness becomes, well, a lot darker. I happen to be in the camp of readers who believe that The Darkness will always work perfectly well as a standalone. But for those readers who will be left with their mouths hanging open in utter shock, asking themselves, “what did I just read?”, fear not. Mr. Jonasson made the conscious decision to do something that sets Hidden Iceland apart from the majority of series, and something potentially far more challenging for him as a writer: to begin this new series at the end of his main character’s law enforcement career, and then to write the subsequent books as prequels. I love the multi-dimensional character of Hulda Hermannsdottir, and I am very much looking forward to reading about her earlier life experiences in The Island, releasing in the US in May of 2019!

The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson book cover image.jpg

Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who enjoy reading crime fiction in translation, in this case, from the original Icelandic.

  • Who appreciate novels of suspense that flesh-out, and explore the psychology of, their main characters.

  • Who enjoy reading Nordic Noir.

  • Who love police procedurals.

  • Who are interested in the potential experiences of refugees and asylum-seekers.

  • Who enjoy reading about strong, independent, female characters…….at any age!

    Pages: 310 (Hardcover)

    Length: 5 hrs. 22 mins. (Audio Book)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Spanning the icy streets of Reykjavik, the Icelandic highlands and cold, isolated fjords, The Darkness is an atmospheric thriller from Ragnar Jonasson, one of the most exciting names in Nordic Noir.

The body of a young Russian woman washes up on an Icelandic shore. After a cursory investigation, the death is declared a suicide and the case is quietly closed.

Over a year later Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police is forced into early retirement at 64. She dreads the loneliness, and the memories of her dark past that threaten to come back to haunt her. But before she leaves she is given two weeks to solve a single cold case of her choice. She knows which one: the Russian woman whose hope for asylum ended on the dark, cold shore of an unfamiliar country. Soon Hulda discovers that another young woman vanished at the same time, and that no one is telling her the whole story. Even her colleagues in the police seem determined to put the brakes on her investigation. Meanwhile the clock is ticking.

Hulda will find the killer, even if it means putting her own life in danger.

MINM Overall Rating: 5/5 Stars

One year ago, I read and reviewed Ragnar Jonasson’s crime novel, Nightblind, part of his Ari Thor, Dark Iceland series. While I enjoyed both Nightblind, and The Darkness, and they are both compelling and quick reads, I found The Darkness to be a bit grittier, and even more suspenseful!

You can read my “Mystery in Seconds” review of Nightblind here.

My next crime fiction read will transport me from Iceland to Sweden. Join me when I review The Fire Witness by Swedish husband and wife writing team, “Lars Kepler”!