Source: Review copy
Publication: 30th April 2020 from Michael Joseph
1987. An isolated farm house in the east of Iceland.
The snowstorm should have shut everybody out. But it didn’t.
The couple should never have let him in. But they did.
An unexpected guest, a liar, a killer. Not all will survive the night. And Detective Hulda will be haunted forever . . .
Wow! The final book in the in Ragnar Jonasson’s Hidden Iceland Trilogy is in many ways the best of the three books. This trilogy has followed the path of Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir and unusually, started with her final case and has worked backwards, so that The Mist concentrates on Hulda, wife, mother and Detective in 1987.
The Mist is the book that explains to us just why Hulda carries so much darkness within her. For this reason, although these books can be read as stand-alones, I’d really urge the reader to start with The Darkness and follow Hulda’s path as Jónasson has written it. That way you will get so much more from these books.
The Mist may be the best of the trilogy but it is certainly the darkest, imbued with a sadness that is so tangible it permeates every page of this fascinating read. I don’t know whether it is entirely the excellent writing, because I kept thinking that somehow, being in lockdown made me appreciate the isolation that this book portrays so keenly and I found myself empathising with at least one of the characters.
It is Christmas,1987 and Erla, a farmer’s wife is preparing to spend Christmas with her husband Einar and their daughter. The farmhouse is in an isolated part of Eastern Iceland and Erla hates that, wishing all the time that she was in Reyjavik where she could access more books, entertainment and the company of other people.
Yet when a stranger knocks on their door seeking help Erla is suspicious of him. Einar though sees only a man in need of help and invites him in to take shelter from the snow storm that is starting to make an impact.
Einar is a good host and invites the man to stay overnight until the snow storm has subsided and can’t understand why Erla is being so snappy with the man, questioning him over what he was doing in the area and finding something to concern her in his answers.
Back in Reykjavik, Hulda is not feeling the Christmas spirit at all. Things at home are not good and that’s exacerbated by a big workload in her job as a police detective, not to mention the feeling that she has to work twice as hard to show her male colleagues that she is as able as they are.
When she is called to investigate multiple deaths at the remote farmhouse, the call could not have come at a worse time for her, and she leaves behind a disintegrating marriage.
The Mist is essentially a locked room mystery and with so few characters, it’s not really a book about who did it; rather it is about the personalities and the reasons behind such a shocking case, as well as shedding light on why Hulda’s personality developed as it did in the earlier books.
The Mist is beautifully wrought and absolutely fascinating, peeling back the layers of Hulda’s life until we finally understand what has brought Hulda to be the woman she was. Added to that, the case she is investigating is dark and very sad, revealing a lifetime of heartache and hidden secrets for one of the characters.
It is Jónasson’s grasp of characterisation, his clever use of the looking back device in this trilogy coupled with his wholly engrossing atmospheric writing that drives this book forward and makes it o compelling. I understood Hulda so much better by the end of The Mist and may go back and read the first two books to see how that understanding informs them; though I’m glad they first come in the order that they are published. As ever, an excellent translation from Victoria Cribb.
Verdict: Clever, atmospheric, dark and beautifully structured, The Mist is an impactful and emotional study of the impact of loss and how grief can drive the human spirit. I loved it.
Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he works as a writer and a lawyer and teaches copyright law at Reykjavík University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, and, from the age of seventeen, has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s novels. He is an international Number One bestseller.