Anyone who read The Darkness, the first book in Ragnar Jónasson’s “Hidden Iceland” series knew that by necessity, the follow-up was going to have to be a very unconventional sequel. And that is exactly what The Island delivers. By breaking out of the structural mold of the standard series, Ragnar Jónasson has crafted one of the most unique continuing stories ever seen in crime fiction. Just as he did in the contradictory “Dark Iceland” series – dubbed by many as cozy noir – this new series feels incredibly traditional even while it forges a very avant-garde path through the accepted notion of what constitutes a crime fiction series.
Every writer’s goal is to lure the reader in and capture their attention for the duration of a work, but there are some authors who seem to manage this with just the barest minimum of words. Crime fiction authors like Louise Penny, Attica Locke, and yes, Ragnar Jónasson are able to hypnotize readers on that first page and practically deny them the ability to step away until the story is complete. Readers who crack the spine of The Island will instantly be transported to the exotic wonderland that is Iceland.
Astute readers will remember that in The Darkness, lead character Hulda Hermannsdóittir mentions a few pivotal cases that helped to establish her credibility and build her police career. One of those cases took place on the secluded locale of Elliðaey. The Island is a recounting of that case – and so much more.
Since Jónasson is manipulating the timeline here, there is much to cover before getting to the inquiry at the core of the novel. This means that Hulda plays a minor role in the early sections of The Island. Readers are given glimpses of her, which again show her struggles to be taken seriously within the Icelandic police department and her navigation of a complex family history. However, the real focus at the start of the novel is some background that contains necessary information to properly understand the ensuing drama. This backstory consists of several storylines spanning a ten-year period in various locations around Iceland. Exactly how those elements weave into the evolution of a friendship between a group of young people that culminates in their visit to the island from which one of them will never return is the work of a virtuoso storyteller.
Readers become intimately knowledgeable about each of these island visitors as Hulda interviews and questions them about the tragic incident. Once again, Hulda’s instincts tell her that there is more going on here than meets the eye. As is often the case in real life, no one person has all the necessary information to close this case. Rather, the revelation of what really happened up on that cliff lies at the intersection of multiple truths and countless lies scattered among various people.
New readers can certainly enjoy The Island as a stand-alone, but the novel really rewards those who have experienced The Darkness. Because this is a series being told in reverse order, those that have read the earlier – later – book know certain facts that alter perceptions within The Island. This takes an already very complex structure and elevates it even further because the reader becomes an active collaborator participating in the machinations skillfully crafted by the author.
Ragnar Jónasson proves that The Island is a place where tradition meets innovation – creating something new by simply altering the vantage point. Next year, The Mist will explore yet another dark and treacherous alley on Hulda’s journey to The Darkness.