Iceland has been voted the safest place to live in the world 12 times. On average, there's only one murder committed each year. However, Icelandic crime writers ignore these statistics, writing relentlessly dark stories of crimes of passion, serial killers and the dangers of the environment.
Ragnar Jonasson, who has a law degree and works as an investment banker while writing crime fiction, is considered one of the most successful writers of Nordic Noir. He is best known for his Dark Iceland series set in Siglufjordur, Iceland's most northern town, featuring his police detective, Ari Thor, which is soon to be a major TV series.
Outside, however, is a standalone novel, which begins deceptively as a story about friends reuniting on a trip into the eastern highlands, before descending into something far darker, as they become trapped by the weather.
Daniel, now in his mid-30s, has returned from London to Rekjavik to join his friends from school, Armann, Helena and Gunnlaugur, at a holiday cottage in the south west. However, at the last minute Armann suggests they all go ptarmigan hunting in the remote highlands, on the other side of the country.
All of the men have dubious pasts. Armann, now the wealthy owner of a tour company, had been both a drug user and dealer before a life-threatening incident led to reform. Gunnlaugur although a lawyer, is an outsider and suspected rapist. Daniel is an actor struggling to make ends meet, while Helena, an engineer, is still grieving the death of her lover Vikingur five years earlier in a storm in the mountains.
The hunting expedition is disrupted on the first day by a deadly, unexpected blizzard from the north, bringing darkness, snow and "mind-numbing" cold. "Nature was often at its cruellest when you were most unsuspecting, especially in Iceland. It never gave quarter; you could never be completely secure."
The only hope is to find shelter in a hut, which Armann assures them is close by. There's relief when they find it, until they discover what's inside.
What follows is told from multiple perspectives, each of the four friends revealing their inmost thoughts sequentially, as their situation goes from bad to worse, the blizzard intensifies and escape is impossible. Old grudges become hatred and anger. Not all of them will survive.
Jonasson is a master at exploring the impact of claustrophobia brought on by darkness and enclosed spaces. He an avid fan of Agatha Christie, and Outside is an adaptation, with an Icelandic twist, of the classic locked-door mystery.
It's a compelling, tension-packed story until the abrupt end.
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