Looking for escape from our cold, dark and snowy winter? This intriguing mystery from Iceland — a bestseller in Europe — is set in an even colder, darker and snowier location.
Fresh out of police training, Ari Thor (Thor isn't his last name, it's the second part of his first name) lands a job on a three-man police force in a small town just south of the Arctic Circle. He arrives in mid-November on the day the townspeople get the last glimpse of the sun they'll have for two months.
Other than the almost-daily snowstorms, nothing much happens during the winter, his boss assures him, an assessment that proves true at first. But then, in quick succession, the town's most respected elder dies after taking a suspicious tumble down a flight of stairs, and a youngster in a park discovers a comatose woman bleeding from stab wounds. In a twist borrowed from Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," an avalanche in the nearby mountains cuts off the only road to town, trapping the assailant(s) but also forcing the small police force to rely strictly on its own limited resources to solve the crimes.
Author Ragnar Jonasson, who taught himself to write by translating Christie's books into Icelandic, likes to provide full biographies of everyone. Many authors create back stories for their main characters, but those typically aren't included unless they factor into the plot. Jonasson has no qualms about detouring the narrative to detail a supporting player's unhappy childhood or long-running marital woes. Perhaps he's trying to capture that small-town aura of everyone knowing everyone else's business. Whatever his motivation, he definitely shows a knack for the whodunit business.
Jeff Strickler is a features editor at the Star Tribune.