Skip to main content




Ragnar Jónasson has been writing top-notch mysteries and thrillers set in and around his home country of Iceland and the town of Reykjavík, where he was born. The stark and often intensely cold landscape makes for the ideal backdrop for his books and provides the appropriate claustrophobic feel that creeps into your mind as you turn each page. There is no better tour guide to the Icelandic territory than Jónasson, so you always have to prepare for an intense journey.

The tagline for his latest effort, OUTSIDE, offers a simple yet chilling premise for readers to ponder before diving into the story: Four friends. One night. Not everyone will survive. It takes a truly talented writer to work with a thin outline like that and turn it into a classic, and that is exactly what Jónasson has done here. I believe he has penned the Icelandic version of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

"I read it in breathless fashion, not knowing what was going to happen next, fully under the spell of an author operating at the top of his game."

This college reunion trip is told from the perspective of all four characters in tightly wound chapters that keep the action moving and the tension running nice and taut. The organizer is Armann, who probably has the most time on his hands as he is the only member of the group not to finish college. He dropped out because of drugs, and rumor has it that he is still involved in the drug trade. Accompanying him are Daniel, who is working hard to make it as an actor; Helena, an engineer; and Gunnlaugur, an attorney.

The foursome are hunting for ptarmigans and will hunker down at a cabin in the icy wilderness. Unfortunately, a monster blizzard will foil these plans in more ways than one. They battle their way through the violent storm to the only shelter they can find. But when they arrive, the hunting hut is locked and none of them have access to the lockbox with the front door key.

Eventually they do get it open. Once inside, their combined headlamps shine on something that frightens the hell out of them. A man, apparently alive but frozen in the corner of the room, is pointing a shotgun directly at them. After getting over the initial shock, they attempt to communicate with him but get nothing; he just stares straight at them. It’s as if he’s looking through them, expecting someone or something else to walk through the door.

It is at this point that the brilliance of Jónasson’s writing shines the brightest. He is able to take this literal frozen moment and sustain it for a number of pages as our protagonists debate what to do next. Daniel volunteers to head back out to look for another haven for them or possibly some help. Helena sees him out, while Armann and Gunnlaugur remain at the hut in a stare-down pose with their unwanted visitor. She returns, preventing Gunnlaugur from drifting off and giving him an odd feeling of foreboding that Daniel is dead.

Moments later, the silent stranger suddenly moves. This startles Gunnlaugur, who raises his own gun and fires at him. When the dust settles, the man is lying in a pool of blood. Armann and Helena are shocked and appalled, as they alternate between looking for some way to cover up this unfortunate situation and turning away from their friend. We also learn what has been apparent from the start --- there is no love lost between Helena and Gunnlaugur. She actually claims that he is a “murderer now as well as a rapist,” an obvious implication directed towards another incident from the attorney’s past.

Armann is taking the lead, determined that Gunnlaugur will not go down for this terrible accident. A discussion about what to do with the body soon follows, and Gunnlaugur feels that Armann is the only person keeping him from sinking into the abyss. Then the door budges open for the unexpected return of Daniel, who immediately notices the dead body on the floor and is brought up to speed on what went down. Much to everyone’s surprise, especially Gunnlaugur’s, Daniel is not on board with any sort of cover-up. He would prefer to go to the police to report the shooting so as not to risk his own reputation or acting career. They all begin to turn on each other, and my earlier reference to Reservoir Dogs becomes very real.

I won’t go any further as OUTSIDE holds many more surprises and stunning moments that need to be experienced. I read it in breathless fashion, not knowing what was going to happen next, fully under the spell of an author operating at the top of his game.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 1, 2022

by Ragnar Jónasson

  • Publication Date: May 23, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250833477
  • ISBN-13: 9781250833471