Book Review: “The Darkness”, a Plunge into the Chilling Depths of Gloom

Icelandic Author Jónasson’s Newest Protagonist, Hulda Hermannsdóttir, is a Relatable Tragic Heroine for Modern Audiences

Ragnar Jónasson’s “The Darkness” possesses all the qualities of a literary staple, whether it is in the genre of Nordic noir, or in the realm of cult classics. Courtesy Minotaurvia AP

Ragnar Jónasson’s The Darkness possesses all the qualities of a literary staple, whether it is in the genre of Nordic noir, or in the realm of cult classics.

This comes as no surprise from the accomplished Icelandic novelist, who has become quite the iconic figure in the world of crime-thriller literature, thanks to his best-selling Dark Iceland series. Remarkably, he manages to amplify the intensity with his sixth book. Not only will it leave you in a deeply contemplative state, it will bring you to see people, as well as their intentions, in a different light.

The first novel of a three-volume saga hit the shelves of bookstores across Canada last month. Among the many whose hearts have fallen captive to Jónasson’s prose is Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, who gives high praise for his latest harrowing tale, “Dimma the Darkness holds the reader from the first page to the last.” Hers is but one in a list of many gleaming recommendations featured on the back-cover.

Hulda Hermannsdóttir, heroine of the series, is a sixty-four-year-old investigator from Reykjavik, who finds herself introspective in the face of retirement that came much quicker than she first expected. Attempting to come to terms with this, she uses the limited time she has left at her job to pour herself into a closed case which she believes has been mishandled by a dismissive colleague.

In an isolated cove not far from the island’s capital the body of a young migrant woman from Russia was found lifeless. With no viable leads, the previous investigator concluded the deceased named Elena had committed suicide, although circumstances surrounding her death had Hulda believing otherwise. Beyond having a spotless record, Hulda is able to boast many exploits over the course of her career. Even so, this decorated detective is restless to elucidate this final injustice and set the record straight before being put out of commission.

Loss of control is one of the most terrifying aspects of this tale. This is especially true for Hulda, who had always been quite self-possessed. After the death of her daughter, and later her husband, she was able to find comfort in her career. Focusing on the latter kept her from feeling the weight of her whole life falling apart. Now she’s leaving the force and remains powerless to stop the changes in motion she finds herself slipping up and acting recklessly.

What’s more excruciating is when said lack of power is the result of one’s inability, sometimes even unwillingness, to address the obvious facts laid before them. Denial can blind one to the ways of their own salvation. The consequences of this are evocatively described in Simon & Garfunkel’s haunting ballad, the Sound of Silence, “Fools, said I, you do not know, silence like a cancer grows.” Often, the only thing any one of us truly has any jurisdiction over is the frame of mind we adopt in reaction to events; this is a notion that eludes Hulda in her quest to uncover the tragic death of Elena.

These two women have one thing in common: there are no heroic defenders to rescue them from distress. Much to the contrary, they’re tormented at the hands of seemingly benevolent figures.

The reader is constantly reminded of the strength women must demonstrate in light of the hostile circumstances life inherently throws at them. I was taken aback with the accuracy the author, a 42 year-old man, painted a picture of feminine predicament. Above all, he does it with incredible feeling, demonstrating an impressive comprehension of the nature of human emotion, the struggle we each face in our individual ways, as well as the darkness we all carry through existence.

Portrait of author Ragnar Jónasson. Courtesy Sigurjón Ragnar

“I hope the reader appreciates the story of Hulda, not only the crime she is solving. For me that is important,” said Jónasson. “I also hope people will be surprised by the ending.”

This writer appears to have given himself the mission to defy his readers’ expectations in the most elusive ways, and he wastes no means to achieve his goal. Throughout the novel, Jónasson’s voice ushers the audience into a false sense of security before hurling them into immutable despair.

The weather and landscape described convey an emotional dimension expressed with a sensibility reminiscent of Canadians’ own disposition toward their climate. Combine all of this with an intricate tapestry of symbolism weaved into a number of complex themes, and the end result is the elaborate magnitude of Jónasson’s work.

You can now get a copy of the book on Amazon, or in bookstores across Canada. To learn more about the author or his novels you can check out his website