Rachel Hall's Reviews > Rupture

Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson
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Jan 03, 2017

it was amazing

Three years after his arrival in the unprepossessing fishing village of Siglufjörður precariously located at the northernmost tip of Iceland, life still feels like an arduous task for Ari Thór Arason, despite the much vaunted improvement in transportation links to the community. The isolation of the village and unremittingly morose winter weather has never been anything less than a tall order for city man, Ari Thór, to contend with. Encircled by a ring of mountains which throw an oppressive shadow over the village, he feels their suffocating effect weighing down his spirits, with the threat of an avalanche or landslide always imminent. Yet for Ari Thór the village has never exerted such an intolerable grip on him as it does in the events of Rupture, which sees the region seized by the spread of a highly contagious disease, namely haemorrhagic fever. With the village placed under quarantine and the residents thereby made rudely aware of their importance in the national scheme of things, the Siglufjörður police have an opportunity to take things easy. For Ari Thór, prone to brooding, the opportunity to appraise a centuries old case presents him with an enigma to keep his mind blessedly occupied.

The temporary sabbatical departure of Tómas earlier in the year provided an opportunity for fifty-five years old Hédinn to approach Ari Thór and seek a fresh opinion on a mystery that has always blighted his past, specifically the circumstances surrounding his aunt's suicide in 1957. With a skeleton staff juggling the shifts at Siglufjörður, the opportunity has evaded Ari Thór until the village is struck by sickness. Hédinn tells the story of his parents, Gudmundur and Gudfinna, striking out from the village in an attempt to inhabit the now isolated and inhospitable fjord of Hedinsfjörður. Soon after the couple were joined by both his aunt, Jórunn, the sister of his mother and her husband, Marius, only for Jórunn to tragically take her own life soon after Hédinn was born. Her death was never given more than a cursory look, with the family regarded as being the sole dwellers on the fjord, the conclusion always seemed in little doubt. Until, that is, Hédinn comes across a photo taken by his uncle and he must face the prospect that perhaps his family were not quite as alone as they thought.. As Ari Thór takes a closer look he is only too glad to be distracted from the paternity test that it hanging over his head and the stifling atmosphere overwhelming the village, but even he is unprepared for the ominous feeling that Hedinsfjörður embodies.

With Ísrún, the news reporter in Reykjavik who readers met in Blackout, covering the epidemic isolating Siglufjörður and tackling her own investigations the opportunity for some pooling of resources is thoroughly appreciated by Ari Thór. After gaining the upper hand in her battle with Ívar, the desk editor at the station, and chalking up an award for her own gritty reporting Ísrún is in prime position to monopolise the crime stories which arise. When she is alerted to a major political player's son being killed in a suspected hit and run, she senses that things might not be as cut and dried as they look. Ísrún, never able to forget her own mortality with a debilitating medical diagnosis hanging over her horizon, strikes while the iron is hot, managing to pose the awkward questions and never shy of bluffing her way to a scoop. Before the hit and run incident can even be digested, the harrowing kidnap of a child in broad daylight sends shockwaves through the entire country and forces a reprioritising of matters. Between juggling two investigations and also covering the Reykjavik end of the work on Ari Thór's cold case, could Ísrún be biting off more than she can chew?

Undoubtedly, the most precarious entanglement in the life of Ari Thór is his fractious and brittle romantic liaison, forever teetering on the precipice with the changeable Kristín, not helped by his sometimes surly nature. With Tómas breaking the news that he has instigated his eventual migration to accompany his wife to Reykjavík, making a decision as to his future in on the cards for Ari Thór, but with his tumultuous relationship and the threat of impending fatherhood from his one night stand looming, he feels wholly unprepared for taking a make or break decision. Ari Thór is a compelling lead character, a mix of an impulsive youth but already weighed down by his responsibilities and the loss of his parents at such an early age. He often struggles with his communication, appearing blunt, affronting villagers and bottling up his tensions as his failure to convey the depth of his feelings gets the better of him. His fallibility and evident realism provides an instant magnetism and along with Ísrún, herself not the most diplomatic, they display a admirable naivety.

Jónasson's crisply eloquent prose seamlessly travels across country and between the past and present, to flawlessly combine the separate cases into one fluid larger entity. With a growing number of reappearing characters filling the limelight, there is less onus on Ari Thór's personal dramas to plug the hole and as such he feels like he is finally maturing into a more stable figure. But as all followers of the Dark Iceland series know, life in Siglufjörður can turn on a knife edge and wherever the impetuous Ari Thór goes, drama will inevitably follow. Underneath the edifice of peace in the tiny fishing village, the worlds of the characters that surround Ari Thór feel every bit as implosive as the previous three novels. Despite the remorseless doom and gloom stifling the village itself, Iceland as a whole is no longer the safe haven it once was, happily insulated from so much of the nefarious activity that is rife further south and throughout Europe. Times are changing for both Ari Thór and Siglufjörður.

It is testament to Ragnar Jónasson's eloquence that after the character of Ari Thór Arason first set foot on the crisp snow of Siglufjörður three years ago, his still feels like ripe territory for exploration and my thirst for his tales of Dark Iceland are unquenched. Jónasson has crafted a character that straddles the shifting territory of an outsider tackling a sensitive job in an insular and remote village, and the necessary distance between Ari Thór and the families who have a centuries old historical connection to the village is critical. The resulting outcomes of both the historic case and the current day matter tackled in Rupture are breathtakingly audacious; combining the deceptively subtle slow reveal of Christie for one, and the depth and elegance of a Karin Fossum sting in the tail for the other.

Translated superbly by Quentin Bates with his familiarity for the characters and his invaluable understanding of the quintessentially English charm that Jónasson strives for, Rupture is once again an exquisite read.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ Wonderful review, Rachel. Reading Snowblind by this author now.


Rachel Hall Oh Diane, This is a series that just keeps on giving! Will look out for your review of Snowblind! Many thanks xxx


message 3: by Elaine (new)

Elaine Tomasso Great review. xx


Rachel Hall Thank you Elaine. A very clever little tale and a series that I have found superb. xx


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