Minotaur, 336 pages, $27.99 (c2018)
Translated by Victoria Cribb
“The Darkness” marks the first appearance of Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir. Author Ragnar Jónasson has written other thrilling books set in Iceland, but this time he has chosen to feature a female police detective, and Jónasson does well by Hulda. This is the first book in a proposed three-part series, two of which have already been published in Iceland.
Jónasson excels at presenting a dark and brooding version of his home country. Iceland plays a dramatic background to Hulda’s case because of both its location and its history. Over a year ago, the body of a young Russian asylum seeker was found on an isolated beach. It was concluded that she had taken her own life and drowned in the sea. The case was closed, that is until Hulda decided reopening it would be her poke in the eye to the police department that was forcing her to retire from a job she may not have loved, but which turned her away from her haunted, lonely life and gave her something to do.
Hulda only has a few days to re-interview everyone who knew Elena and to dig up any new leads to prove Elena was murdered. She proves to be persistent, if unwise at times.
In concurrently running stories, a young woman gives birth to a child who is placed in a care facility and another young woman — an asylum seeker, it is revealed — begins a weekend getaway into the mountains with a man. Where these stories are in time and what they have to do with either Hulda or her case is left for the reader to guess until close to the end. But they turn out to be surprises that fill in the gaps for both.
Hulda turns out to be a complex character who only appears to be fairly simple to understand. Both her husband and daughter died much before their time, leaving Hulda alone and self-conscious. Now that she is sixty-five, the walls are closing in. There are thoughts that finally must be let in and care given to what her life will be now. She is handling both badly. When her boss demeans and undervalues her, she simmers, but will she now blow?
I’ve enjoyed Jónasson’s other books and I enjoyed this one. He displays his characters’ insecurities very well. They are accommodating creatures until, of course, they are not. And that is Jónasson’s gift to his readers.
P.S. It's worth noting that the title in Icelandic is "Dimma."