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The Island


The Island

Ragnar Jonasson is not a one-man Icelandic crime fiction wave, but he comes close. Each of his instantly memorable novels features at its heart at least one slow-boil, tantalizing mystery that is as much a character study as a whodunit (and whydunit), led by a sympathetic though hardly superhuman protagonist. Jonasson’s Ari Thor series was well underway when he introduced Reykjavik Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir in THE DARKNESS. With the able assistance of Victoria Cribb’s translation, Jonasson has just published THE ISLAND, the second book in the series, in the United States, and it leaves his win streak intact and strengthened.

It takes some time for Hulda to appear here, and even longer --- almost half of the book --- for her participation in the investigation of the primary mystery to get underway. That said, a great deal happens in the run-up. THE ISLAND begins a decade prior to the book’s present. What is supposed to be a romantic weekend interlude ends in a violent murder. The death is investigated, the doer is found and the case is closed, with a bit of dubious police work on the part of Lydur, the detective who ultimately becomes Hulda’s supervisor.

"THE ISLAND is a quiet and suspenseful book full of whispers, but you will hear every word."

Flash forward to the present. Four long-time friends who have been somewhat out of touch with each other reunite on an extremely remote island to reconnect and memorialize a dead friend who passed away years ago. But before the reunion is over, one of them dies, apparently by accident. Meanwhile, Hulda has been investigating a personal mystery of her own and follows the trail to the United States, where she encounters a heartbreaking dead end. On her return, she happens to take the call requesting assistance in the investigation of a reunion death.

After questioning the remaining trio of friends, Hulda almost immediately senses that each is hiding something important. When she learns that one of them has a connection to the murder investigation that occurred 10 years previously, she begins digging into that as well, much to the dismay and opposition of Lydur, who has at least one reason to keep her away from it. It seems that everyone connected with both cases is either lying or concealing something, and it is up to Hulda to figure things out. And she’s more than up to the challenge. By the end, she has everything solved, except for two issues. The reader will know just a bit more than she does after the final paragraph is read.

Hulda is an instantly relatable character, solidly if not entirely comfortably in middle age and no stranger to the darkest of tragedies. Known for her ability to ferret out the truth in homicide cases, her rank and salary do not remotely match her abilities, which may or may not change in future volumes. Explosions and karate are notably absent here, and as such it is the perfect balance to an afternoon of watching, say, John Wick: Chapter 3 --- Parabellum. THE ISLAND is a quiet and suspenseful book full of whispers, but you will hear every word.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 24, 2019

The Island
by Ragnar Jonasson

  • Publication Date: June 23, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250621852
  • ISBN-13: 9781250621856