Book Review: Blackout by Ragnar Jónasson

Blackout by Ragnar Jónasson is a dark, exceptional thriller from one of Iceland's finest crime writers.

Blackout by Ragnar Jónasson is the second book in the Dark Iceland series. Because the series has been translated into English from the novels originally published in Icelandic, there is a good bit of confusion about the proper reading order for these books. Adding to the confusion is the fact that two different publishers, Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press and Orenda Books have published the English translations.

Like many series, evolution of the major characters and past events dictate the reader read the Dark Iceland series in a specific order to avoid bewilderment. Going by the book series numbers provided by book retailers like Amazon, which are incorrect, guarantees you will become disoriented and confused.

Reading Jónasson’s series in the order shown on retailer sites will make it appear the series skips enormous blocks of time and that important characters’ stories seem befuddled or left incomplete. Unfortunately, if you read some of the reader reviews on Amazon, you see that many have posted some awful reviews for Jónasson’s books which are terribly unfair because it’s clear the readers read the books out of order and attributed their obvious confusion to poor writing.

Initially, I fell into the same trap by trying to read Nightblind after Snowblind because Nightblind was presented as the second book in the series, both by the publishers and on Amazon. Yet things seemed so off, I did some research and discovered that Nightblind is the fifth book in the series, not the second. That lead me to the actual second book, Blackout. Once I started reading it, everything made sense again and came back into the same sharp focus I remembered from Snowblind.

Blackout (The Dark Iceland Series Book 2)

by Ragnar Jónasson

Publisher: Minotaur, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press (English Translation)

on August 28, 2018

Translated by Quentin Bates

Genres: Mystery & Detective / Crime Thrillers

ISBN-13: 9781250171054

Print, electronic book, and audiobook versions available

On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance. Ari Thor Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjordur struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies.

Blackout takes place in June 2010, following the events of Snowblind, the first book in the Dark Iceland series. Ari Thór Arason, the protagonist, is in his second year as a member of the tiny police force in Siglufjörður, a small fishing town in a narrow fjord with the same name on the northern coast of Iceland. He is still struggling to acclimate to the Siglufjörður while dealing with unhappiness over his fizzled relationship with his former partner, Kristin.

When an American tourist discovers the body of a man someone beat to death next to a summer house in nearby Skagafjörður, the lead detective in Akureyri investigating the murder, calls on Ari Thór and his boss Tómas, Siglufjörður’s police inspector, to assist with the investigation since the victim lived and worked in Siglufjörður.

Besides another murder investigation for Ari Thór, Blackout offers two other story threads of interest. One concerns a dark secret from the past of Hlynur, the third member of the Siglufjörður police force and the other that involves a new character, Ísrún, a Reykjavik journo with a dark secret of her own.

As in Snowblind, Ragnar Jónasson again brings his own distinctive blend of Skandi noir crime fiction to English-speaking readers with a murder mystery at the edge of the Arctic Circle. Also, like the first novel, Siglufjörður and the surrounding areas of far northern Iceland serves as much as another character as a setting. The plot is satisfyingly taut and suspenseful. As much as I enjoyed Jónasson’s debut in this series, this second offering was even better.

As interesting a character as Ari Thór is, Ísrún is my favorite character in this book. She already has a lot on her plate even before Jónasson reveals the dark secret from her past near the end of the novel. She quickly attracts the reader’s interest and later on, the reader’s sympathy. While Hlynur’s circumstances are mostly elaboration on something the first book touched on, the situation with Ísrún is an actual plot driver.

There are plenty of twists and unexpected happenings in Blackout to satisfy the armchair sleuth who enjoys trying to solve the whodunit before the detective, but the identity of the killer in this one isn’t nearly as interesting an unexpected as the why behind the murder.

This book is a must read for fans of Nordic noir who enjoy the writing of authors like Jo Nesbø and perfectly suitable for anyone who loves a good murder mystery. The English translation is more the British than an American version of English, but that doesn’t distract in the least.

I purchased the copy of the book used for this review.

Proper Reading Order of The Dark Iceland Series

For the benefit of those who might be interested in reading this series, ignore the book series numbers on Amazon and other book retailers. Here is the proper reading order of the English translations of these novels.

Snowblind (2010)

Blackout (2011)

Rupture (2012)

Whiteout (2013)

Nightblind (2014)

Winterkill (2020)

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