‘The Girl Who Died’ by Ragnar Jónasson

Author : Ragnar Jónasson
Title : The Girl Who Died
Pages : 320
Publisher : Michael Joseph
Publication date : June 10, 2021

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Una 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 Christmas, there’s a murder.

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| MY THOUGHTS |

Una needs a change. So when a friend draws her attention to an advert of the tiny village of Skálar looking for a teacher, Una decides to leave the big city behind and head to the north coast of Iceland. But Una isn’t prepared for what she finds there. For one, the residents aren’t exactly welcoming her with open arms. On top of that, Una thinks she hears things in her attic bedroom. Could it be a child singing? But if it’s not her landlady’s daughter, then who is it? And just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse, someone dies.

Unsettling doesn’t even begin to describe The Girl Who Died. Not only are there the remarkably unfriendly residents of Skálar, all ten of them, who all seem to have something to hide but the general environment of this small village in itself made me feel remarkably uneasy. This, as always, is where Ragnar Jónasson excels. The atmosphere of this unforgiving Icelandic landscape gave me the chills in more ways than one.

The Girl Who Died is all of that : unsettling, chilling and deliciously creepy. In a way, it is a locked room (village) mystery. Nobody ever visits, nobody ever seems to leave either. So whomever is responsible for the death that occurs must be residing in the village.

To be quite honest, it could have been anyone. And that includes Una because you can’t help but wonder if she’s losing her marbles and completely paranoid. As for the other village residents, they are all so incredibly unlikeable, acting suspiciously and, despite the ad, some can’t even hide the fact that they don’t want Una here at all.

With just eleven characters, I would have expected to get to know them a lot better than I did. I would have preferred to have been able to get a proper feel for them so I could might possibly (but not likely) have come up with a theory of my own. Throughout the story, there are chapters written by an unknown person sharing their experiences. You know these will somehow fit into the grand picture but I wasn’t at all able to figure out how exactly and I was left guessing until the reveal.

There’s a lot to like here if you enjoy Scandi-Noir or Ragnar Jónasson’s books. Which I do, and yet I didn’t quite enjoy this one as much as I have some of his other work. The story ends up going in a direction I wasn’t prepared for and it left me feeling slightly disappointed. Overall though, a murder mystery with a delightfully atmospheric setting and I do look forward to whatever is next from Ragnar Jónasson.

My thanks to Jen at Michael Joseph for the early review copy. All opinions are my own.

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