The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson and Victoria Cribb

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The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson and Victoria Cribb

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A atmospheric story about an isolated part of Iceland and how the villagers pull together to protect themselves - against anyone. An engaging read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: June 2021
Publisher: Michael Jospeph
ISBN: 978-0241400128

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Una was not thriving in Reykjavik: it was some years since her beloved father had committed suicide without leaving any explanation and since then she'd given up her medical studies and retrained as a teacher. She was thirty years old and money was tight. Her friend, Sara, showed her an advert for a job in Skalar on the Langanes Peninsula. There were only ten people in the village but a teacher was required for two children: a salary would be paid and accommodation provided. Una was the only applicant and the job meant that she could let her flat in Reykjavik and, hopefully, save some money over the winter which her contract covered.

It was isolated: it took Una nearly two days to drive there and the roads were so bad that her car barely finished the journey. She was to stay at Salka's house along with Edda, Salka's seven-year-old daughter and one of her pupils. The other was Kolbrun, who was nine. Edda was outgoing but Kobrun was overly reserved. Una described the villagers as a good bunch of people but the truth was a lot harsher: she was not welcome in the village and life was very lonely. Alcohol became her best friend and the knowledge of her drinking soon spread through the village. The weather was bleak - and not even picturesquely snowy - and it seemed that her attic bedroom was haunted by the ghost of a young girl who had died in the house some sixty years before.

Una fears for her sanity. And then one of her pupils dies in mysterious circumstances.

The story is creepy. I kept having to look away to reassure myself that I was not out on the Langanes Peninsula. I cared about Una rather more than I liked her. I wanted her to cut back on the wine - or even just to get out of Skalar but that would have spoiled the story. There's only one person in the village who's about Una's own age and that's Thor, who lives with Hjordis at the farm. Una's not clear what the relationship is between the two and Thor certainly seems reluctant to start any other friendship. Hjordis is downright antagonistic and makes it clear that Una is not welcome. The rest of the villagers do much the same, some more bluntly than others.

It's a well-crafted story with a plot that stands the test of rereading. I came to the story after having enjoyed Jonasson's Winterkill and whilst this is a stand-alone novel the good characterisation and clever plotting came through again. There's also a particular talent for capturing the atmosphere of the more remote parts of Iceland. He's an author to watch out for: I'll certainly be pleased to read more of his work.

I'd like to thank the publishers for allowing Bookbag to have a review copy.

Ragnar Jonasson's Dark Iceland Novels in Chronological Order

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