Author meets Reviewer: Ragnar Jonasson meets Philipa Coughlan

Article published on May 4, 2018.

After reading and reviewing The Darkness, the first book in a new series featuring Icelandic detective Hulda Hermannsdottir, Philipa Coughlan penned some questions for author Ragnar Jonasson:

Philipa Coughlan: Many Scandi Noir novels are brutal and uncompromising. But yours seem to have a Golden Age traditional feel. Is your style influenced by writers such as Agatha Christie? I know you have translated some of her novels. 

Ragnar Jonasson: I have always loved the writing of Agatha Christie, and I am a great admirer of her plots. Of course she has influenced me, and I think it gives me a slightly different viewpoint.

PC: In the Dark Iceland series, policeman Ari Thor seems to feel the claustrophobic effect of the climate in Iceland. Is this a known condition (such as Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD), which can manifest in physical and emotional symptoms, some of which might lead to criminal acts?

RJ: If you ever go to Siglufjördur you would be struck by the indescribable but also somewhat overpowering mountains seen on all sides. Interestingly, however, the prevalence of seasonal affective disorder has been found to be lower in Iceland then in the east coast cities of the United States. I wonder if this is because the Icelandic population has had the condition selected out of them, and are better able to cope with long winters?

PC: A friend of mine has just returned from Iceland (unsuccessfully seeking the Northern Lights!). Alongside her love of the scenery she noted how expensive everything was and you do often mention the effects of the Icelandic financial crash in 2008. Are there still ripples through the country?

RJ: The financial crash had an enormous impact on Iceland, but I’m pleased to say that the country seems to be recovering extremely well, largely thanks to tourism.

PC: I was delighted to read about the older female detective, Hulda, in your new book, The Darkness. She has a great attitude and view of the world. It made a nice change from young dynamic men leading the police force. What drew you to her as a character?

RJ: Hulda is a resourceful, clever, yet shy and inward-looking character. I developed a lot of affection for her during my writing, and I know that she is based on a few of the strong, matter-of-fact, and robust women that have made Iceland’s equality among the best in the world. She is also remarkably similar to my mother-in-law 🙂

PC: The traditions of Iceland, particularly around Christmas, are often described. The idea of exchanging books and sitting by a fire reading them on Christmas Eve is delightful. What sort of books inspired your childhood?

RJ: Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton, plus various Icelandic writers.

PC: The references to the writing of your grandfather and namesake give us an insight into some traditional folk tales and evocative descriptions of stunning scenery.  Was transferring those beautiful images into murder and violent crime scenes difficult? 

RJ: No, it was remarkably easy. Icelandic folk writing has always been rather dark and maybe as result of the unforgiving landscape it becomes easy to write like that.

PC: Has the Icelandic Tourist Board welcomed you turning the country into a hotbed of death? 

RJ: I’m still waiting for the pay cheque…

PC: Family life problems and the disruption often caused by mental illness to close relationships are issues you explore with some expertise. Where do you look to do your research on this?

RJ: Most research is done on-line, but my brother-in-law is a doctor so with regards to all medical questions I usually just ask him. As my way of “thanking” him I made him into a rather unlikable character in Nightblind, although in real life he is very likable!

PC: I have been delighted to discover your books, so what’s next in the pipeline after The Darkness

RJ: There are two more books in this trilogy coming up, so this is not the last you will hear of Hulda.

PC: Any thoughts on the British trying to deal with a few inches of snow recently? 

RJ: If it is snowing, I would always recommend staying indoors and reading Icelandic thrillers.

Our thanks to both Ragnar and Philipa for this entertaining Q&A.

The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson
Michael Joseph 9780718187248 hbk Mar 2018

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