The Island really hits the mark for Jónasson’s growing army of fans and this novel is a perfect place for new readers to find out what he’s about. Jónasson is an accomplished storyteller with a distinctive voice and The Island is an intriguing murder mystery in the best traditions of Nordic Noir. The Island sets several hares running in the early chapters, including a brutal murder. Each thread begins very softly, very ordinarily, then suddenly turns and a dark menace enters the story. It’s a gripping read that only gets more tense as the story unfolds. The Island is a police procedural that contents elements of the psychological drama, there’s also a miscarriage of justice and even a plot line that says something of modern Iceland through a link to it’s past and the stationing of United States troops during the war/cold war. As always the landscape and the weather overhang the story and the setting is beautifully realised. Pacy and clever, this is a really satisfying thriller.
1988. The novel opens with a couple fretting over the late arrival of the babysitter for their seven-year-old daughter. The mother is nervous anyway because they don’t really know the girl that well. Eventually, the babysitter turns up, soaked after having walked there in the rain. The couple head out for the night and after a dinner party they eventually return after eleven pm. Their daughter is still up but both she and the babysitter say it all went well. But there’s something:
“It was a nice evening, wasn’t it?” [father to daughter]
“Yes…Yes, it was fine,” she said…
“She was kind… kind to you, wasn’t she?” [he asks]
“Yes,” answered the child. “Yes, they were both kind.”
1987. Benedikt and his girlfriend have come away for a romantic weekend at her parents remote summer house, they settle in. Later, she takes him up the mountain to the hot spring for a dip. The setting seems idyllic, the couple are very much in love. Benedikt leaves her to sleep the next morning and wanders off on his own, he loses track of time while he’s out… Inspector Andrés of Ísafjordur police is a bit put out when a woman rings from Reykjavik asking him to check on her daughter, the Heydalur summer house is some miles from the police station and it’s probably a wild goose chase. Only it’s not, the girl is dead, lying in a pool of blood on the cabin floor, no one else around. Andrés will not be conducting the investigation, that falls to a young detective, Lydur. He builds a case on a slim piece of evidence and a man is convicted of murder…
1997. Bendikt, Dagur, Alexandra and Klara decide to take a break on the remote island of Ellidaer. The weekend starts well enough but one of them dies. Hulda Hermannsdóttir soon realised this is no accident, one of the survivors is a killer…
As the three main strands of the story begin to marry up, the atmosphere in this tense claustrophobic novel ramps up too. Jónasson manages to mask not only the killer but the motive for murder until the final reveal, (there are a couple of clever red herrings along the way). The plot keeps you guessing and rethinking what you know as you go along. As with all his novels Jónasson creates a very credible cast of characters, with interesting personal stories, and a well crafted plot. The setting compliments the dark moody nature of the mystery. Jónasson is not just a very good Scandi-noir author he’s a top crime writer; original and inventive. The translation by Victoria Cribb conveys the tone of the novel wonderfully.
Paul Burke 4/4
The Island by Ragnar Jónasson
Michael Joseph 9780718187255 hbk Ape 2019