Rookie policeman Ari Thór Arason takes a posting in Siglufjörður, a remote, isolated village in northern Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle. Soon, in the place where “nothing ever happens”, Ari Thór is involved in investigating two cases: the death of a celebrated author and an assault on a woman found half-naked in her garden.
This is very much a type of closed-room mystery. An avalanche blocks the only tunnel leading through the mountains to the rest of the country. That event and the oppressive, unrelenting snow create an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.
Ari Thór is developed as an interesting protagonist. He is young and keen to prove himself. Thus far he has been rather directionless; he dropped out of philosophy and theology studies to become a policeman. His boss describes him as “inclined to be temperamental and impulsive [but] his intentions were always good.” He is intelligent, except when it comes to women; for instance, he takes the policing job without discussing it beforehand with his live-in girlfriend whom he knows will not be able to leave Reykjavik.
The book is not especially fast-paced. A great deal of time is devoted to giving the background of various characters. Keeping everyone straight can be difficult, but providing so much information does make the reader feel like Ari Thór, a newcomer to a close-knit community in which everyone knows everyone. We get to know the villagers as Ari Thór gets to know them. And, of course, these various people often have motives that make them possible suspects.
I appreciated that clues are not withheld. All the information is there; it just needs to be pieced together into an intelligible whole. The only technique that is artificial and feels awkward is the intentional omission of specific details as Ari Thór gets close to solving the cases: “It was the name that she mentioned that took Ari Thór by surprise” (without revealing the name) and “Ari Thór asked his question” (without indicating the actual question).
I am planning a trip to Iceland so I must admit that part of the appeal is the setting of the novel. I may not quite make it to Siglufjörður, but I have come across it in my itinerary research. Certainly, the book interested me enough that I’m off to read Blackout; the events in it supposedly follow those of Snowblind.