TCR Talks with Ragnar Jónasson
By D.M. Olsen
On a recent visit to Reykjavik, Iceland, I found a great little bookstore in the downtown area. Eymundsson was a three-story establishment with a coffee shop on the third floor. I sought out the section by Icelandic authors and came across an impressive display for Ragnar Jónasson and his Dark Iceland Series. I knew that Nordic noir was very popular throughout the European zone, so I purchased a copy of Jónasson’s bestseller Snowblind. I read the first chapter that night, and tore through the rest of the book in a few days. Needless to say, it’s a gripping read. It tells the story of Ari Thor, a rookie police officer in an isolated Icelandic village investigating the mysterious death of a writer. After I finished it, I emailed Ragnar to see if he would be interested in doing an interview, expecting never to hear back. To my surprise, he responded, so I asked him a few questions about his books and his writing process over email.
Jónasson is one of Iceland’s best-selling novelists. His novel Snowblind was a Barry Award nominee in 2016, and was released in the U.S. by Minotaur Books in early 2017. Jónasson is the cofounder of Iceland Noir, a crime fiction festival in Reykjavik, and has appeared on panels at various other festivals, including Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime in the U.S. Ragnar is a full-time attorney and lives in Reykjavik with his wife and two daughters. He is now at work on his ninth book to be published in Iceland. His next installment of the Dark Iceland Series will be available in the U.S. in December.
The Coachella Review: First, I understand that you have translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. Were those published in Iceland? Have you always been a fan of crime and thrillers?
Ragnar Jónasson: Yes, they were all published in Iceland. The tradition with Christie’s Icelandic publisher was to publish one new translation each year, before Christmas. Ever since I was young I have been an avid reader of crime mysteries, especially the golden age mysteries, from Europe as well as the U.S. When I was a young boy one of my favorite things was to go the national library on Saturdays and read old Icelandic Agatha Christie translations which weren’t available elsewhere.
TCR: Besides Agatha Christie, who are your other influences or favorite reads?
RJ: I´m a big fan of P. D. James and had the great opportunity to meet her a couple of times, and to interview her for an Icelandic newspaper. I also enjoy reading crime fiction authors such as Andrew Taylor and Peter May, to name a few.
TCR: You are also an attorney? Tell me about your process, when do you do your writing?
RJ: Yes, I work full time as a lawyer. It is a very demanding job but I truly enjoy it. It can be difficult balancing both careers but I would not want to give either of them up. I always try to find time late in the evening for my writing, and as a rule I write a bit every night. Some people go mountain climbing in their free time, I write books (although sometimes I do climb mountains!).
TCR: I have read the new U.S. release of Snowblind. The novel is very complex in terms of its plotting. Can you talk about the process of writing the novel’s plot lines?
RJ: Before I start a new book, I have always outlined the plot in great detail. The big picture is there; the story I want to tell and the issues I want to address, the main characters, the plot (and the twist), but then when I start writing further details work their way into the book.
TCR: I loved the idyllic fishing village described in the book. It reminds me in some ways of Cannery Row, where I live. The sardines here disappeared and left a hole in the economy many years ago (it is a tourist destination now). What made you chose that locale as the setting for your novel?
RJ: Snowblind is set in Siglufjörður where my grandparents lived and where my father grew up. I used to visit every summer as a child, and still visit many times a year. It is an amazing place. We still own our family house and it is like time stands still there. The isolation is tangible with all the mountains surrounding the village. It is such a magical place and an ideal place for a murder mystery!
TCR: The majority of the characters in the book have lived in this small village their whole lives, and Ari Thor is an outsider. What was the inspiration for that juxtaposition?
RJ: I think it was essential to tell the story through the eyes of an outsider, like Ari, as the reader is also, in a way, an outsider in the village. Therefore he is getting to know the place and the people, just like the reader.
TCR: I understand that you have sold some serial rights to you work to a company in the UK, and that they will be filming in English, in Iceland. Is this for TV or Film? Do you know if it will be available in the U.S.? When would we expect to see those air?
RJ: Yes, we have sold the rights to Snowblind to a U.K. producer, and the plan is to film in Iceland but in English. The process is going well, but we don’t have any further details at this point.
TCR: What’s next for you? I can see that you have a full plate, but do you have plans to release any more novels? Will they be available in the U.S.?
RJ: Yes, I´m always writing. My ninth book will be published in Iceland this fall. It’s the third book in a new series, set in Reykjavik. The next one available in the U.S. is however a part of the Dark Iceland series set in Siglufjordur, called Nightblind, and that one is scheduled for publication in early December.
David M. Olsen lives in Pacific Grove, Ca. He is currently pursuing his MFA in fiction from UC Riverside’s low-residency program, and is a student at Stanford’s online novel writing workshop.