With the release of Ragnar Jónasson’s The Mist, the original Hidden Iceland trilogy comes to an end, making this the perfect time to discuss this series of novels as a whole. Most fans of crime fiction have probably already heard about the unique sequencing of these novels, but those that have not yet read them are likely unaware of just how much of a game-changer this seemingly minor decision turned out to be. The Hidden Iceland novels change the concept of what a crime fiction series is and forever alters the role the reader plays within the process.
On the surface, these three novels are simply told in reverse order, which while unusual, doesn’t seem especially radical. But to facilitate what Ragnar Jónasson has done requires advanced planning and awareness of his character’s life far beyond what is necessary for most traditional series. Hulda’s earlier cases are mentioned in the first novel. At first this seemed like a way to fill in some of the detective’s backstory, but also turned out to be teases for the later – earlier – books. However, even beyond that, The Darkness (and later, The Island) gave readers information that Hulda did not possess at the time the subsequent – again earlier – books are set, so as readers watch Hulda deal with the issues surrounding her, everything becomes even more poignant and tragic because readers already knew where and how all of this is going to end. So, in short, no longer is the suspense limited to the action on the written page – and make no mistake about it, these novels are incredibly suspenseful – but now, the reader is dealing with their foreknowledge of information that the characters have no awareness of and this creates a second, even deeper layer of suspense that is completely removed from the written page. Even describing how this works does not do it justice. This is a series that every crime fiction fan must experience in order to grasp simply how much of a game-changer it truly is.
Which brings us to The Mist. This is the story of Erla and Einar, a farming couple living and working the most Eastern – and isolated – part of Iceland. As the novel opens, Hulda Hermannsdóittir, is asked by her superior to travel to this remote location to investigate a murder despite the fact that Hulda herself is still reeling from a personal tragedy. Looking for a distraction, Hulda agrees.
The middle section of the novel then flashes back two months and documents not only what is happening at the isolated farm, where an unexpected visitor just before the Christmas holiday throws things into turmoil, but also what is occurring in Hulda’s household during this same time-frame. Readers of the series already know the details about Hulda’s personal life, but watching as the truth becomes clear to Hulda is heartbreaking. The weaving of these two storylines allows Jónasson to employ cliff-hanger-style chapter endings to keep readers flipping the pages hoping to figure out what happened at the farmhouse, but also to bear witness to Hulda’s trauma first-hand.
The final third of the novel deals with Hulda’s travels to the farmhouse and the subsequent investigation. It is here that Ragnar Jónasson once again ties his threads into a satisfying whole, leaving readers emotionally spent.
As with all of Ragnar Jónasson’s work, The Mist features a sparse style that runs in direct contradiction to the profound characterizations on display. This is an author who excels at using an economy of words without ever sacrificing depth and richness. There is still so much that readers want to know about Hulda, so hopefully this is not the end of the Hidden Iceland series; but for now this is a refreshingly successful and inventive use of the series format within the genre and one that is likely to become a touchstone reference for future scholars of crime fiction.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.