A season to die

Rosalea Ryan | Bendigo Weekly | 20-Dec-2017

Whiteout Ragnar Jónasson, Orenda Books $19.99

Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country on Earth.

In December the population of 330,000 Icelandic-speakers observes a tradition known as the “Christmas book flood”: a full year’s worth of new titles is launched in a roughly week-long deluge, just in time to be wrapped (accompanied by a block of the finest-quality chocolate each) and gifted on Christmas Eve.

Icelanders typically then spend the rest of that night snuggled up reading and snacking.

It’s little wonder Iceland’s literature is among some of the sharpest, most beautifully crafted anywhere in the world, influenced by an awe-inspiring, hauntingly bleak landscape, a small-town national psyche and a pervasive, disorienting mid-winter gloom.

Set in the immediate lead-up to Christmas, Whiteout is complete with its own reference to the customary Yuletide exchange of printed matter.

The fifth title in Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series, it continues the story of regional detective Ari Thór Arason and his police-force superior Tómas , now based in the capital, Reykjavík.

Ari Thór’s plans to spend the holiday season at home in Siglufjörður are disrupted by the discovery of a young woman’s body at the base of a cliff at Kálfshamarsvík on Iceland’s remote northwest coastline.

It seems she has jumped – or has she?

In fact, Ásta’s is the third apparent suicide to have occurred in almost-identically inexplicable circumstances – first her mother’s, then her younger sister’s more than 20 years earlier, and now her own during an impulsive visit to the lighthouse her father once managed.

Suspicion sweeps across the elderly caretakers of the estate, housekeeper Thóra and her brother Óskar, and its businessman-owner Reynir and his neighbour and part-time farm worker Arnór.

Given the setting’s extreme isolation, this latest death must have involved at least one of these four people – but which one, and why? – Rosalea Ryan


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