Monday 7 June 2021

The Girl Who Died - Ragnar Jónasson


Una knows she is struggling to deal with her father's sudden, tragic suicide. She spends her nights drinking alone in Reykjavik, stricken with thoughts that she might one day follow in his footsteps.

So when she sees an advert seeking a teacher for two girls in the tiny village of Skálar - population of ten - on the storm-battered north coast of the island, she sees it as a chance to escape.

But once she arrives, Una quickly realises nothing in city life has prepared her for this. The villagers are unfriendly. The weather is bleak. And, from the creaky attic bedroom of the old house where she's living, she's convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.

Una worries that she's losing her mind.

And then, just before midwinter, a young girl from the village is found dead. Now there are only nine villagers left - and Una fears that one of them has blood on their hands . . .

What did I think?

In his first standalone thriller, The Girl Who Died, Ragnar Jónasson shows once again why he is considered one of today's greatest crime writers.  After that amazing first line ('Teacher wanted at the edge of the world') the story builds up like layers of snow, at first seeming soft and gentle but getting more dangerous as times goes on.

Skálar is the village on the edge of the world that troubled teacher Una is drawn to.  This really is a village where everybody knows everybody as there is only a population of ten with two children in the school.  When Una arrives in Skálar there is a creepy welcome from a girl at the window dressed in white; she thinks it must be the little girl who lives in the house...but is it?

As Una gets to know people in the village they make their feelings for her quite clear: apart from Salka who requested a teacher for her daughter Edda, none of them want her there.  With creepy singing in her ear at night and such a frosty welcome, it's no wonder that Una turns to alcohol and this throws a shadow of doubt on her reliability.  With a ghost, a death, a missing person and an historic crime thrown into the mix, there are a couple of mysteries to solve and I love how they are woven together so seamlessly to create a hugely intriguing page-turner.  

I actually exclaimed (WTF?!?) out loud at one point as I got such a shock because of the way that Ragnar Jónasson's hypnotic prose seems to lull us into a false sense of security before pulling the rug out from under us.  It's absolutely stunning writing from Ragnar Jónasson and fantastic translation by Victoria Cribb.         

Claustrophobic, atmospheric and simply brilliant, The Girl Who Died is a masterclass in crime writing from Ragnar Jónasson.  Very highly recommended and one I will definitely read again.  

I received an ARC from the publisher and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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