The fifth Ari Thor novel

Reviewed by Paul Burke

Jónasson’s debut Snowblind, the first Ari Thor novel, was assured and highly entertaining and he hasn’t really put a foot wrong since then. Winterkill is consummate crime writing; a satisfying mystery, or two, backed up by an intriguing and likable flawed detective with plenty of personal drama in his life that is also thoroughly engrossing. Following hot on the trial of the superb Mist earlier in the year this is another treat for fans of Scandi-noir, the police procedural and/or great crime fiction storytelling. Jónasson loves golden age crime and the tropes of the genre and he joyfully riffs on both in his novels which are contemporary and infused with his own inimitable style. Like Jørn Horst Lier or Gunnar Staalesen – he is a class act. From page one I’m happy to catch up with Ari Thor again, a small town policeman although he comes from the city, Reykjavik, and may be thinking about going back there after seven years in Siglufjödur. It’s taken all those years to be properly accepted but now he is and it’s his own young deputy who is the outsider. The story is a slow burn that suddenly deepens into an involved and gripping murder mystery. Jónasson delivers that poetic ending that sort of sets things right but is poignant and disturbing too. This story doesn’t have the frenetic energy of the first novel but it delivers the settled, thoughtful storytelling that makes a series worth following and leaves the reader hungry for more.

All of the Ari Thor stories build on the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small town that is often cut off from the wider world by the harsh weather. Siglufjödur now has a tunnel that connects the town by road to the rest of island, a nearby airport and the port but once again the weather is closing in and contact with the outside world is vanishing into the distance. After their marriage breakup Ari’s wife Kristin and son Stefnir moved to Sweden so she can complete her MA and move on with her career. Siglufjödur no longer feels claustrophobic for Ari and the town is thriving on a new tourism boom around skiing. The Easter weekend is approaching, it will be a bumper one. Kristin and Stefnir are returning for the long weekend, Ari is looking forward to time with his son. Ari has never really moved on from the marriage and he’s wondering whether a change of scenery would help. His old boss Tómas in Reykjavik has offered to support Ari in a move but he’s close to retirement and won’t be a position to help forever. Ari’s own deputy, Ogmunder, is eagerly trying to build a rapport with the locals, he’s by ready but most of the work involves drunks and blizzards.

Ari can’t sleep which is annoying he’d like to be fresh when his family arrives. Then at 3am the phone goes, a body of a young woman has been found in the street in Adalgata, it’s most likely an accident or a suicide. The woman, a teenager, Unnur, must have fallen/jumped from the roof balcony of the adjacent building. The ground floor is occupied by an elderly couple, the other resident Bjorki is away but sometimes let’s out his room. The wife assumed this and buzzed the girl in on the intercom then heard no more until she fell. There are no sign of anything untoward on the balcony. Ari talks to Unnur’s mother Salvör and she can’t believe her daughter would commit suicide but she’s also hiding something.

Meanwhile Kirstin turns up early, Ari surrenders his house and moves into a hotel. His old girlfriend rings, it’s been a long time; his relationship with Ugla was the final nail in the coffin of his marriage. She is now a nurse at a residential care unit. A patient, now in his eighties and suffering form Alzheimer’s over heard two nurses talking about Unnur’s death and later scrawled on his wall:

‘She was murdered.’

Maybe it’s nothing, and questioning an Alzheimer’s patient won’t be easy, but Ari has to follow up.

As the mystery becomes more involved dark secrets from the past are revealed. Ari has much more on his hands than he ever anticipated. All the while there’s his renewed contact with Ugla and fitting in time with his family. The weather plays into the story beautifully and a power-cut tops it off. The denouement is unsettling and chilling. This is exactly how a police procedural should be. The other novels in the series are: Nightblind, Black Out and Rupture. Translated from the French by David Warriner.

Orenda Books, paperback, ISBN 9781913193454, January, (special hardback edition Goldsboro Books Dec.). Personal and group read 4*.