Book Review

The Mist by Ragnar Jónasson

1987. An isolated farmhouse 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…

I’ve really enjoyed Ragnar Jónasson’s Hidden Iceland series, which began with The Darkness and continued in The Island.  Both were five star reads and featured in my favourite books of 2018 and 2019 respectively.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Mist to find out how the trilogy ends (or more accurately begins, as this is a trilogy told in reverse order). Having read all three, I do recommend reading the series in order of publication. You could read them chronologically, but I think that you get more out of it knowing how things turn out for Hulda.

The Mist is set in late 1987 / early 1988 and sees Hulda Hermannsdottir some ten years or so before the events in The Island.  It won’t come as much of a surprise to readers to know that we finally meet Hulda’s husband and teenage daughter.  Even though I knew what to expect from this element of the novel, Jónasson still manages to build tension into the narrative.  He doesn’t go into the details of these events, although it’s very clear (even without reading the first two novels) that something isn’t quite right. It’s quite difficult to read as Hulda struggles with her daughter’s behaviour which she puts down to teenage angst, not knowing what’s really driving the changes she has observed. It’s sensitively handled and adds poignancy to the novel as those events unfold, particularly as the reader knows more than Hulda does. I felt the frustration of wanting to help yet being unable to do anything other than watch as events unfolded – Jónasson makes you care about these characters that much.

In February 1988, Hulda is assigned to a case on a remote farm in the east of Iceland.  Two bodies have been discovered, and they’ve been dead for some time.  Dual time frames are used, and so the reader gets to witness the events on the farm as Erla and Einar take in a man who is lost and in desperate need of shelter in the run up to Christmas.  I enjoyed seeing these events play out first-hand, as Erla and Einar look after this stranger but become increasingly concerned as the story of how he came across their farm begins to show inconsistencies.  Again, the reader knows the outcome, and yet Jónasson continues to build the tension.  It’s an intriguing case, not so much for the whodunnit – which seemed quite obvious – but to understand the culprit’s motive.

Throughout the series, Hulda has struggled to maintain her place in what is presented as a man’s world, and it seems as though little changes over the course of Hulda’s career. Hulda must sacrifice a great deal in order to prove herself capable and dedicated, and I don’t think that’s ever more apparent than in this novel.  She’s unable to show any sign of emotion and must internalise her feelings, lest she show anything that might be perceived as a sign of weakness by her male counterparts.  As the reader, I really felt Hulda’s frustration. The sacrifices she has made for her role are above and beyond, and it’s frustrating to see her treated in a certain way simply because of her gender. She’s not unique, but I felt that Jónasson accurately captured the anger that Hulda – and many women – feel in such a situation. It’s horrible to see someone side-lined like this, and Jónasson portrays this extremely well.

The Mist is a great conclusion to a fantastic trilogy.  It successfully combines Nordic Noir with a touch of classic crime, and Jónasson has created a fantastic character in Hulda Hermannsdottir – she’ll stay with me for some time to come! A brilliant series, and one that I can’t recommend enough.

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