After translating all of Agatha Christie’s novels into Icelandic for publication in his home country, Ragnar Jónasson launched his own crime fiction career with two highly-regarded series – the Dark Iceland books, which I dubbed as “cozy noir,” for their unique ability to cover very dark crimes without the use of gratuitous language of any kind, and the Hidden Iceland series, which has become iconic for the inventive way its overarching backstory is told in reverse chronological order across the various novels. Since then, Jónasson has turned his pen towards stand-alone crime novels which continue to tinker with the standard topics and structure of works as they are most commonly seen in our beloved genre.
Tomorrow, Ragnar Jónasson will release Outside, another stand-alone novel that will grip readers by the throat and drag them to the end, barely leaving room for a breath along the journey. In this novel, readers will find four friends hiking the Icelandic highlands when a sudden and unexpected snowstorm puts their very survival in question. Thankfully they stumble upon a small hunting lodge where they decide they must overnight for safety. Meanwhile, old memories and a strange presence in the cabin put each of the friends on edge, to such a point that not all of them will be alive to see the sunrise.
The tight time-frame of Outside would be enough to keep readers turning the pages long into the night, but Ragnar Jónasson is not an author who keeps only one manipulation in play. Here he adds complexity to the plot by shifting the narrator position in constant rotation amongst the four friends – three men and one woman – throughout. Readers will quickly discover that each individual is only revealing part of the truth and that linking these narratives together to make a whole cloth picture – of both the current journey and their life-long friendships – is key to guessing who will survive this treacherous evening.
Another of Ragnar Jónasson’s many skills is his ability to describe the Icelandic landscape in ways that bring them to life for the reader. Despite Outside being released in the dead of summer here in the United States, do not be surprised when you pull a comfy blanket over yourself as you are reading about this group’s cold trek across Iceland’s unforgiving terrain in the midst of a blinding snowstorm. Those chills you are feeling are real, they are just caused by the words Jónasson is placing on the page and not the wind whipping around in nature outside your bedroom window.
Throughout Outside, Ragnar Jónasson keeps the chapters short – very few of them extend beyond seven or eight pages, helping to ensure this is a quick reading experience. Since the novel covers only one night, it is almost like the reader is experiencing the action in real time – which undoubtedly adds to the thrills as things start to get truly spooky.
The accomplished Victoria Cribb is once again responsible for the translation of Outside from Icelandic to English. Readers who did not know the work was translated, would likely never guess that English is not the native language for Outside – a testament to Cribb’s skill and the reason she is one of the most prominent translators working on Icelandic crime fiction today.
Whether Ragnar Jónasson continues along this new path of stand-alones or launches another series in the future, new readers and fans alike will be anxiously awaiting whatever is next. Until then, Outside will more than satisfy.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.