Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Tackling myths … Ragnar Jónasson

One of the reasons I wrote Nightblind was to tackle two myths about Iceland. The first is that Icelanders are a nation with no guns. This is a very prevalent myth, largely because Iceland is a very peaceful place, usually ranking at the top or near the top of lists of the most peaceful countries on earth. Furthermore, the Icelandic police are quite famous for being unarmed, although this is no longer the case. Some police cars are now equipped with handguns, a sign of changing times perhaps.  But the truth is that Icelanders have a lot of guns – although they are mainly hunting weapons, of course. There have been reports of 60,000 registered firearms in Iceland, which means that one in five Icelanders has a gun, and Iceland has been ranked No. 15 in the world, in terms of gun ownership per capita. This subject is tackled in Nightblind when the local police inspector is shot at point blank range with a shotgun – a hunting gun presumably stolen from a local teacher who kept it in an unlocked garage. As the investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that there are far more weapons on the streets than previously imagined, even in a small place like Siglufjordur!

The second myth is that Iceland is a country with no violence. Again, this has something to do with the ‘peaceful-country’ ranking (and Iceland is very peaceful) and the fact that we have very few murders (far fewer than you would think, reading Icelandic crime novels). However, I wanted to draw attention to the hidden violence that exists in all countries: domestic violence. And Iceland is no exception. It can be said that the horror of domestic violence is a main thread throughout the book, but I think I won’t elaborate further on that – I’ll let the readers of Nightblind discover more for themselves … Domestic violence usually take place behind closed doors and, like it is in many countries, is often under-reported. Who knows what’s going on behind those doors, as the long, dark winters draw in? Any country can appear peaceful on the surface, but most have a simmering rage that leads to violence at home. It’s worrying, and it’s a trend that it is increasing worldwide.

I once had the opportunity to interview the great P.D. James for an Icelandic newspaper, and she told me that the traditions and structure of a detective story could be used to say something about men and women under the stress of a police investigation, and the society in which they live. I tend to agree with that, so my novels usually, directly or indirectly, address a topic that I find interesting or important. Of course I also try not to lose sight of the fact that I am writing a crime novel with a focus on characters, setting, plot and a twist in the end … And it is surely in the most compelling stories that the truth can be told, the myths shattered, and issues brought to the surface, as readers absorb information through entertainment. It’s a powerful vehicle for change, and that’s one of the reasons why I love writing crime fiction.

Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates) is out now. (Orenda Books, £8.99)

Siglufjör› ur: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.  Ari Thór Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him. The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman – shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will. Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all.

More information about Ragnar Jónasson and his writing can be found on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter @ragnarjo

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