Una is devastated after the suicide of her father.
So when she sees an advert seeking a teacher for two girls in Skalar on the storm – battered north coast of the island, she sees it as a chance to escape.
But once she arrives, Una quickly realises nothing in city life has prepared her for this.
The villagers are cold.
The weather is bleak.
And, from the creaky attic bedroom in the old house she’s living, she’s convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.
Una worries that she’s losing her mind.
And then, just before Christmas, there’s a death in the village…
Thanks so much to Jen at Michael Joseph for sending me a proof copy of this menacing thriller set in Iceland. My second read by Ragnar Jonasson and this is on skilled author at using the desolate landscape to create an atmospheric and creepy read.
Una is a bit lost, single and lonely, never highly socialable most of her uni friends have moved on and her one remaining close friend is married with a child. Struggling to equate her teacher’s salary with a Reykjavik life she decides to up sticks and head for a year long teaching post in remote Skalar. Did I say remote? With a population of 10, Una will be teaching the 2 children in the village.
Needless to say there were small town vibes aplenty, arriving with car trouble; that is a suspicious noise that will need repair prior to the long journey out, the isolation feels complete. Set in the 80s, digital contact with the rest of the country is minimal. First impressions are ok, Salka her landlandy is warm and welcoming and a chance meeting with a handsome man is promising. But very quickly it becomes obvious to Una that not everybody felt the need for a teacher and the welcome she receives is somewhat cooler than she had hoped for.
Interspersed through the story is the tale of a woman, interrogated by police, as this unfolds her plight becomes clearer and by the conclusion the fit with Una’s story is complete. This added a layer of mystery to this already nuanced story and I found myself very curious about how she fitted in. The village community were tight and generally unwelcoming which created an air of suspicion and threat. There were some exceptions, but when pushed or challenged by Una they were quick to close ranks, adding to the overall distrust.
The creepiness factor was heightened by a ghostly presence in the house where Una is staying, rumours of a haunting abound and a story of a girl who died there many years ago is oft repeated. For Una she wonders if is she going mad, is she drinking too much, is it the dark, the isolation… either way she often awakens petrified, convinced she has heard something. The friendliest of villagers are polite but don’t include her and a mysterious visitor over Christmas worsens her plight.
This was a strong piece of Icelandic Noir that I truly struggled to put down. I enjoyed The Mist (review here) and comparisons can be drawn in terms of the hostile landscape, the dark winter and the oppressive isolation. Ragnar Jonasson has weaved together an intricate and engrossing story that is highly recommended for fans of noir, crime, mystery and thriller. It is tightly written and finely executed to a tidy conclusion which I very much appreciated.
About the Author
Ragnar Jonasson is an international number one bestselling author who has sold over two million books in thirty-two countries worldwide. He was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he also works as an investment banker and teaches copyright law at Reykjavik 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. His critically acclaimed international bestseller The Darkness is soon to be a major TV series.