Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Darkness - Ragnar Jónasson


Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson has been receiving such high praise from high places recently, that I decided it was time for me to get ahold of one of his books to see for myself what all the talk is about. Because I’m a big fan of crime fiction series anyway, I decided to start with The Darkness, the first book in Jónasson’s three-book “Hulda Series.” And what a perfect way to get acquainted with Ragnar Jónasson’s crime writing, that turned out to be!Reykjavik Police Detective Inspector  Hulda Hermannsdóttir (now you know why the series is called simply the “Hulda” series) is one of the least obvious candidates to have a police series of her own I’ve ever run across - and that makes The Darkness memorable. 


As The Darkness begins, 64-year-old Hulda is being forced into retirement a full six months earlier than she had planned to leave the Reykjavik police. Despite her shock at being pushed out the door this way, Hulda does manage to wrangle an additional two weeks on the clock during which she will be allowed to work on the cold case of her choice. Everyone knows that the odds against her solving any cold case singlehandedly in just two weeks are not good, but Hulda very badly wants to end her career with a win, so she takes the deal her boss offers. 


One year earlier, the body of a young Russian woman who was seeking asylum in Iceland washed ashore. All indications are that the woman committed suicide, and the original investigative file indicates exactly that. But Hulda knows that the police failed the woman both while she was alive and again after her death, and she wants to rectify as much of that failure as she can before it is too late ever to learn the truth.  Now, after learning that just days before her body was found, the woman had been notified that her application for asylum had been approved, Hulda knows that suicide is an unlikely answer as to what happened to her. And then, Hulda learns that a second young Russian woman, the dead woman’s best friend, has herself missing for months. She is certain that the fates of the two women are connected, but no one but her seems to care - and now she only has two weeks to figure it all out. 


Hulda, though, is not exactly a by-the-book cop, and she never has been one. She steps on toes, keeps her boss so far out of the loop that he’s always frantically trying to get her on the phone, interviews whomever she pleases whenever she pleases, and bends the law beyond its breaking point whenever she thinks that’s the right thing to do. And that’s exactly why her two weeks suddenly turns into three days. If she is going to figure all of this out, Hulda is barely going to have time to sleep.


Bottom Line: Hulda Hermannsdóttir is a woman with secrets of her own, and it is great fun to watch Jónasson build the character layer-by-layer into one that eventually bares little  resemblance to the Hulda I thought I was reading about at the beginning of The Darkness. And please - for your own good - DO NOT read the ending first. I know that some people still read novels that way, but this is absolutely not the time to do it. I’m telling you…don’t do it. 


Amanda Redman’s audiobook narration is excellent, and it makes listening to her read The Darkness a real pleasure. 


Ragnar Jónasson
(Photo by Bill Waters)


14 comments:

  1. Anyone who reads the ending of this one first should be hung up by their thumbs. Just sayin'. I've read the entire trilogy, loved it, and intend to do something I VERY seldom ever do: reread it, only this time in reverse order. I'm glad you liked this one, Sam.

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    1. It took courage to write that ending, and I felt such great respect for Jonasson for writing it the way he did that I was tempted to applaud him out loud.

      I'm doing something I very seldom, if ever, have done, too...immediately started on the second book in the trilogy to see how the ending of the first one would be handled in the second. Couldn't wait to find out.

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    2. I know someone who read this book as her first Jónasson and was so horrified that she refuses to read any more of his books. Personally, I think her reaction was a bit extreme, but to each his own.

      And I do agree with you, it took courage to write that ending, and to construct this trilogy the way he did. I'll let you in on a little secret: I did applaud him when I finished the book.

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    3. I wondered about how common that kind of negative reaction would be, and I suppose I can understand it in a way. But like you, I go nuts for something that breaks the mold the way this one does. Jonasson is my hero. Oh, and...your applause is totally in order. He earned it. :-)

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  2. Hulda sounds like an intriguing character. I'm adding this author to those I should read.

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    1. If you read this one, Dorothy, I would love to hear what you think of the way it is constructed. This is one of the cleverest novels I've read in a while...in any genre.

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  3. Hulda does sound intriguing! I like that it is a 3 book series, too.

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  4. Jen, I'm dying to tell people why this one is so different...but that would spoil it for everyone who hasn't read it yet. Ragnar Jonasson is someone I'm going to read more of...already about 80% of the way through the second book in the series.

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    1. I love it when a person has the same reaction to a book that I did-- especially when it's a book that knocked my socks off.

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  5. That ending so knocked me for six that I haven't read any more. LOL!

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    1. It really was something, Cath, and as Cathy pointed out, you weren't the only one who reacted that way. The second book in the series is very cleverly written and anyone not having read the first one won't have any idea how that one ended.

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  6. You beat me. I've been meaning to try this author and some of his books for a long time now, too. Glad you liked this one. I might have to put this book at the top of my summer reading list. :)

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    1. I hope you do...would love to see how you react to this one.

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