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The Darkness


The Darkness

Icelandic thriller novelist Ragnar Jonasson made a quick and dramatic splash into the American Nordic noir market with the Dark Iceland series, which introduced Detective Ari Thor of the rural Siglufjörður police department. Jonasson is by no means done chronicling Thor’s exploits, but while we wait for the next installment, he introduces a new crime trilogy that is quite different from his previous books. What the two series have in common is the manifestation of Jonasson’s careful development of memorable characters and his plotting skills, which leave readers wondering, guessing and, in the case of this first entry, ultimately gasping.

THE DARKNESS features a very flawed and complex protagonist in the form of Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police. We encounter Hulda as she approaches the cusp of 65. It is a momentous occasion that becomes less than bittersweet when she finds herself on the verge of abruptly and involuntarily being put out the door in favor of a younger broom. Hulda is in the midst of investigating a death that already has been marked as solved. The deceased is a young Russian woman who was seeking asylum in Iceland. Although her death was ruled a suicide, Hulda knows the investigating detective to be fond of shortcuts and inclined towards sloppy work.

"THE DARKNESS is a bit of a slow boil, though it certainly roars at the end.... [T]his trilogy is off to an addictive and compelling start."

During the course of her own investigation, Hulda discovers that the woman was about to have her asylum request approved, and also learns that her friend disappeared without explanation around the same time. She begins nosing around in what would seem to be the right places, but finds that her efforts are anything but welcomed by her superior officer. Exacerbating matters is that Hulda makes a grievous error that could lead to her having serious problems on her otherwise exemplary record as she leaves the force. Still, Hulda is determined to go out with a win and spends her last day determined to solve the closed case. However, she has no idea of the danger in which she is placing herself, or how wrong she truly is.

THE DARKNESS is a bit of a slow boil, though it certainly roars at the end. Jonasson, well known in Iceland for his translation of the works of Agatha Christie, has been influenced by her work here and elsewhere, which is all to the good. That said, the ending was not what I expected. Mental exclamations (“Huh? What?”) will abound --- for more than one reason --- among those who read the final page.

The next volume, THE ISLAND --- an excerpt from which is included in the book --- precedes the events in THE DARKNESS by a quarter century, so those who are curious about the resolution of the threads left dangling at the conclusion of the latter will have to wait to see what occurs. While they may not do so patiently, wait they will, and in great anticipation, given that this trilogy is off to an addictive and compelling start.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 26, 2018

The Darkness
by Ragnar Jonasson

  • Publication Date: October 16, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250171032
  • ISBN-13: 9781250171030