After reading the Martin Beck novels last year, I decided to continue with Nordic noir. I had heard about a series set in Iceland, specifically the remote area of Siglufjörður, and featuring a young detective named Ari Thór Arason. I read these novels on Kindle and on Audible, where it helped to hear the correct pronunciations of some of the more challenging (to me) place names. Then author is supposed to be a big fan of Agatha Christie (as am I). He has translated fourteen Christie novels into Icelandic. I didn’t find any overly obvious parallels or homages to her novels in this series, which suited me just fine. But they are all set in a small village where everyone seems to know everyone – except the newcomer – recently transplanted from Reykjavik young policeman Ari Thór. So I guess he is a bit of a fish out of water, like Poirot, plunked into a sleepy village like Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead.
In the first novel, Snow Blind (2010), rookie cop Ari Thór arrives, in wintertime, in a remote Icelandic town, close to the Arctic Circle. Maybe not the best of timing. He struggles to fit in – with the harsh weather and even harsher “welcome” of his new neighbors. At least he has a friend in his boss Tomas. He misses his nurse-trainee girlfriend Kristin, who is back in the much more cosmopolitan Reykjavik. The reader spends a lot of time with Ari Thór and his (sometimes quite callow) thoughts as he tries to adjust to his new surroundings. In the midst of all this introspection comes a murder, and Ari Thór’s discovery that he might be quite good at solving such things.
Blackout (2011) finds Ari Thór still adjusting to his life in Siglufjörður. He and his boss Tomas are called in to help in the investigation of a murder that has occurred in the nearby town of Skagafjörður. Readers are also introduced to Reykjavik reporter Ísrún, who becomes a very fascinating and recurring character in the series, with secrets of her own.
Ari Thór and Ísrún team up in Rupture (2012) to try and solve a crime that occurred over 50 years ago. There is also an interesting parallel to current times, as an extremely contagious illness causes the area’s residents to quarantine, which just adds to the already claustrophobic atmosphere created by the weather and isolated location.
Ari Thór and his girlfriend Kristin are spending Christmas together in Whiteout (2013) – but in an even more remote Icelandic village than usual – where Ari Thór is called on by Thomas to investigate a strange murder with only three suspects – two of them an elderly brother and sister. This one, probably my favorite of the series, had an interesting plot, with the victim dying in the same manner and place as other family members many years before.
Nightblind (2014) finds Ari Thór sick with the flu and unable to help when a policeman is shot and killed – so Tomas must head the investigation. Things are also very much awry on the home front with his girlfriend Kristin. Can Ari Thór solve the case and grapple with issues in his past to be able to move forward with Kristin?
In Winterkill (2020) it is Easter time, where this time the weather-related challenge is constant daylight. Ari Thór has to investigate the case of an apparent suicide – or is it – while also sorting out problems of a more personal nature. This is supposed to be the last in the series. His misguided introspection could be annoying at times, but I will actually miss Ari Thór. Luckily, Ragnar Jónasson has plenty of other books to check out.
The mysteries in this series are all pretty involving, but what really makes the books a standout is Jónasson’s evocation of Ari Thór’s surroundings – the weather, the land, the people. Word of warning – The books/translations were published out of order in the U.S., so Amazon has the books in the series listed out of order. I have listed them in order, as Ari’s life and story evolves.