Shortlisted for the Crime Novel of the Year Award in Iceland
Third Place, Novel of the Year Award 2016 in Iceland, selected by booksellers
One of the bestselling novels in Iceland in 2016
Autumn of 1987 takes a young couple on a romantic trip in the Westfjords holidaya trip that gets an unexpected ending and has catastrophic consequences.
Ten years later a small group of friends go for a weekend in an old hunting lodge in Elliðaey. A place completely cut off from the outside world, to reconnect. But one of them isn't going to make it out alive. And Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is determined to find the truth in the darkness.
Ragnar Jonasson burst onto the American scene with Snowblind and Nightblind, the first two novels in the Ari Thor thriller series, and the praise was overwhelming. With The Darkness, he launched a new series featuring a completely new sleuth, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir of the Reykjavik Police department. The Island is the second book in this series.
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The weekend break in the remote north-west had been a sudden whim, a way of defying the autumn darkness. Having flung their things into Benedikt's old Toyota, they had set out from Reykjavík in a high pitch of excitement. But the long drive, often on rough gravel roads, had taken hours, and night was closing in by the time they reached the West Fjords peninsula. They were still some way from the remote valley that was their goal and Benedikt was growing increasingly anxious.
They had driven over high moors, the treeless landscape stretching out bleak and ominously empty in the gathering dusk, and descended to the coast in the innermost arm of the great fjord known as Ísafjardardjúp. Benedikt relaxed his grip on the wheel as the road hugged the low shoreline for a while before rising to climb over another pass. His knuckles whitened again as the road began to descend, winding its way in hairpin bends back down to the sea. The mountains loomed long and low on either side, dimly visible in the gloom. There wasn't so much as a pinprick of light to be seen. The fjord was uninhabited, its farms long deserted, the population having fled the hard living on the land, some for the small town of Ísafjördur, 140 kilometres away up the fjord-indented coast, others for the bright lights of Reykjavík in the far south-west of the country.
'Haven't we left it too late?' Benedikt asked. 'We'll never be able to find the hut now it's dark, will we?' He had insisted on driving, despite never having visited this part of the country before.
'Relax,' she said. 'I know the way. I've been up here loads of times during the summer.'
'During the summer, right,' Benedikt replied, focusing grimly on following the thin ribbon of road through its unpredictable twists and turns.
'Now, now,' she said, her voice light, laughter rippling just below the surface.
He'd been waiting so long for this moment, admiring this slight, high-spirited girl from afar and sensing that maybe, just maybe, she felt the same. But neither of them had made a move until a couple of weeks ago when something had finally shifted in their relationship and the spark had ignited a blaze.
'Not far now to the Heydalur turn-off,' she said.
'Did you ever live up here?'
'Me? No. But Dad's from the West Fjords. He grew up in Ísafjördur. The summer house belonged to his family. We always used to come up here in the holidays. It's like a sort of paradise.'
'I believe you, though I don't suppose I'll be able to seemuch tonight. I can't wait to get out of the dark.' He paused, then added, doubtfully: 'It does have electricity, doesn't it?'
'Cold water and candlelight,' she replied.
'Seriously?' Benedikt groaned.
'No, I'm kidding. There's hot water – plenty of hot water – and electricity too.'
'Did you tell ... er, did you tell your parents we were coming up here?'
'No. It's none of their business. Mum's not home and, anyway, I do what I like. All I told Dad was that I wouldn't be around this weekend. My brother's away too, so he doesn't know either.'
'OK. All I meant was ... it's their summer house, isn't it?' What he'd really wanted to know was whether her parents were aware that they were going away together, since it would send a pretty clear signal that they were starting a relationship. Up to now the whole thing had been a secret.
'Yes, of course. It's Dad's house, but I know he's not planning to use it. And I've got a key. It'll be great, Benni. Just imagine the stars tonight: the sky's supposed to be almost perfectly clear.'
He nodded, but his doubts about the wisdom of the undertaking wouldn't go away.
'Here, turn here,' she said abruptly. He slammed on the brakes, almost losing control of the car and only just managing to make the turn. Finding himself on an even narrower road, hardly more than a track, he slowed to a crawl.
'You'll have to go faster than that or we won't be there till morning. Don't worry, you'll be fine.'
'It's just that I can't see anything. And I don't want to write off the car.'
She laughed, that bewitching sound, and he felt better at once. It was her voice and the guileless quality of her laugh that had originally drawn him to her. And now, at last, all the obstacles had been cleared from their path. He had an overpowering sense that it was meant to be; that this was only the beginning, a taste of the future.
'Didn't you say something about a hot tub?' he asked. 'It would be great to have a soak after bumping over these roads all day. I swear every bone in my body's aching.'
'Er, yes, right,' she said.
'Right? What do you mean? Is there a hot tub or not?'
'You'll see ...' This tantalizing sense of uncertainty was never far away with her. It was part of her charm; she had a gift for making even the mundane seem mysterious.
'Well, anyway, I can't wait.'
At last they entered the valley where the summer house was supposed to be. Benedikt still couldn't make out any buildings in the gloom but she told him to stop the car and they both got out into the cold, fresh air.
'Follow me. You need to learn to be more trusting.' Laughing, she took his hand, with a feather-light touch, and he followed. He felt as if he were taking part in some beautiful black-and-white dream.
She stopped without warning. 'Can you hear the sea?'
He shook his head. 'No.'
'Shh. Wait. Keep still and don't talk. Just listen.'
He concentrated on listening and then heard the faint sighing of the waves. The whole thing seemed unreal, magical.
'The shore isn't far away. We can walk down there tomorrow, if you like?'
'Great, I'd love that.'
A little further on they got their first glimpse of the summer house. In spite of the darkness he could see that it wasn't particularly large or modern. It looked like one of those seventies A-shaped huts with the roof sloping almost to the ground on either side and windows at the front and back. She found the keys after searching in the pockets of her padded jacket, opened the door and flicked on the light, instantly dispelling the gloom. They entered a cosy living area, full of old furniture that lent the place a rustic charm. Benedikt sensed at once that it had a good atmosphere.
He was going to enjoy their stay, this weekend adventure in the middle of nowhere. The sense of isolation was enhanced by the thought that nobody knew they were there; they had a whole valley to themselves. It really was like a dream.
Most of the hut was taken up with the living area, but there were also a small kitchen and bathroom opening off it, and a stair ladder at the back of the room.
'What's up there?' he asked. 'A sleeping loft?'
'Yes. Come on, quick.' She swung up the ladder in a few agile movements.
Benedikt climbed up after her. It was indeed a sleeping loft under a sloping ceiling, furnished with mattresses, duvets and pillows.
'Come here,' she said, lying down on one of the mattresses. 'Come here.' And when she smiled at him like that, he was powerless to resist.CHAPTER 2
Benedikt was standing outside under a star-studded sky, grilling hamburgers on an old coal barbecue in the chilly autumn breeze. The trip had got off to a good start and he was filled with optimism at the thought of what was to come. Although he was essentially a city boy and had always regarded the West Fjords as cold and inaccessible, he was surprised to find that he was enjoying himself. Of course, he couldn't have wished for better company, but there was something about the place itself, the solitude. He filled his lungs with the cool, clean air and tried closing his eyes and listening out for the sea again. The scent of autumnal leaves mingled with the appetizing aroma rising from the barbecue. He opened his eyes. He was standing behind the hut, and only now did it occur to him that the hot tub was nowhere to be seen.
After they had finished their supper in the living room, he asked, 'So where's this hot tub you promised me? I've walked right round the hut several times and I can't see any sign of it.'
She laughed mischievously. 'That can't have taken you long.'
'You're just trying to dodge the question.'
'Not at all. Come with me.'
She was on her feet and out of the door before he knew what was happening. He hurried after her into the October night.
'Are you going to conjure up a hot tub?'
'Just come with me. Are you cold?'
He hesitated for a second, because he was rather chilly in his thin jumper, but he didn't want to admit it. Reading his mind, she went back inside and emerged with a thick woollen lopapeysa. It was grey, with a traditional pattern in black and white. 'Do you want to borrow this? It's Dad's. I pinched it to bring along. It's far too big for me, but so warm.'
'I'm not wearing your dad's jumper. That would be weird.'
'Up to you.' She chucked the jumper back inside, where it landed on the living-room floor, and closed the door behind them.
'It's about a five-, ten-minute walk further up the valley,' she said, pointing.
'The hot pool,' she threw over her shoulder as she set off. 'There's a fantastic natural hot spring, perfect for two people.'
A full moon had risen while they were having supper, flooding the whole valley with its cold radiance. Benedikt thought privately that he wouldn't want to walk that way on a dark night, since there were no other lights to be seen. No sign of human habitation apart from the summer house, now out of sight behind them. Still, it was an adventure, and he was so head over heels in love with this girl that he was determined to make the best of it.
But there was no hot pool anywhere near, as far as he could tell.
'Is it much further?' he asked uncertainly. 'You're not having me on, are you?'
She laughed. 'No, of course not. Look.' She pointed up the narrow valley and there, at the very roots of the mountain, he glimpsed a small building and next to it a wisp of steam rising white in the moonlight. 'Yes, there. Can you see the shelter? It's by the pool. It's an old hut which people use as a changing room.'
They picked their way towards the pool but, as they drew closer, Benedikt realized that their way was blocked by a mountain torrent. He could see the moonlight glittering on the rush and swirl of the water.
'Where's the bridge?' he asked, stopping short. 'Or do we have to go round?'
'Trust me. I know this place like the back of my hand.'
When they reached the riverbank, she said, 'There is no bridge, but this is the best place to cross. Can you see the stones?'
Benedikt nodded. He could see some rocks poking up through the surface and he didn't like the look of them one bit now he realized what they meant.
'There's nothing to it. Just one stone at a time, then you're across.' Taking off her shoes and socks, she picked her way over as if she'd been doing it all her life. As nimble as a cat, Benedikt thought.
Oh well, there was no getting out of it. He was too ashamed to let her see his apprehension, so, following her example, he removed his shoes, stuffed his socks into them and carried them in his hands. Bracing himself, he stepped into the water, only to flinch and retreat, swearing under his breath, when he discovered how bonenumbingly icy it was.
'Come on, just get it over with,' she called, seeming impossibly far away on the other side.
He waded into the river again, stepped on to the first stone, then jumped on to the next. As he made the leap to the third, he stumbled, only just managing to find a toehold and avoid disaster. Finally, he was across, heaving a sigh of relief and trembling slightly.
When he looked up, he saw that she had stripped off her clothes and was standing stark naked on the bank of the pool. 'Come on,' she said again, picking her way into the hot water.
He didn't wait to be told twice but took off his clothes and climbed in to join her, almost falling flat on his face, so slippery were the stones on the bottom.
'This is absolutely ... incredible,' he said, gazing up at the sky, at the moon and stars and the surrounding darkness, feeling cocooned by the steaming hot water. He moved closer to his girl.CHAPTER 3
Benedikt's teeth wouldn't stop chattering when he got back to the hut after the trip to the pool. He hadn't a clue what time it was; his watch was somewhere in the car and the only clock in the summer house, a small one on the living-room wall, had stopped. It seemed appropriate that here, in the empty region between mountains and sea, time should stand still.
'Let's go straight to bed,' he said. 'Get under the covers. I'm freezing.'
'OK,' she said. 'Hurry up. You head up the ladder first,' and the caress in her voice warmed him a little.
Benedikt was going to wait for her but, when she showed no signs of moving, he started up the ladder. It was dim in the sleeping loft and he fumbled in vain for a light switch.
'Isn't there a light up here?' he called down.
'No, idiot,' she said affectionately. 'This is a summer house, not a luxury villa.'
He groped his way around in the faint illumination from the moon outside the tiny window. They'd left their bedding in the car but Benedikt was too cold to go back downstairs, let alone venture outside. He rearranged the mattresses, pushing two of them together, then got under the duvet. A shiver spread through his body, but in spite of that he was filled with happy anticipation. At the bottom of the ladder was his dream girl, about to come up and join him, and they were so utterly alone, miles from the nearest settlement. They might have been the only two people in the world.
Soon he heard light footsteps. She was on her way up the ladder, accompanied, quite literally, by a glow. She was holding an old candlestick cupped in both hands, the flame lighting up her face, lending it a mysterious, enchanted quality. The situation was so unreal that Benedikt shivered again.
She placed the candlestick carefully on the floor. If there was an accident with a flame in this old wooden hut, he thought nervously, the consequences would be a foregone conclusion. But in that moment his attention was distracted by the realization that she was half naked.
'Wow,' he blurted out involuntarily. She was so bloody gorgeous. But then, glancing at the candlestick, he felt compelled to ask, 'Isn't it dangerous having a candle up here?'
'How do you think people manage in the countryside, Benni? Honestly, you're such a townie.'
He laughed. 'Aren't you going to get under the duvet? Aren't you cold?'
'Do you know, I never feel the cold. I don't really understand why.' He could see her smile in the glow of the candle. Then she turned and descended the ladder again, without explanation.
'Are you going back down?'
She didn't answer. He shifted a little closer to the candle, as if he could use its warmth to drive the chill from his bones. The same word – 'unreal' – popped into his mind again. Or 'otherworldly', yes, perhaps that was it. And at the same time, it felt a little forbidden, which made it all the more exciting.
She reappeared almost immediately, this time with a bottle of red wine and two glasses.
'This is f–fantastic,' he shivered.
She wriggled under the duvet, close beside him. 'There. Cosier now, Benni?'
The feeling was indescribable, hearing her say his name here, like that.
'Yes,' he replied, inadequately.
'You know, one of my ancestors used to live near here,' she said, and from her tone it was clear that there was a tale attached. She was always telling stories; it was one of the things he loved about her. It had been so easy to fall in love with her, far too easy, but he didn't regret a thing. Not any more.
'People say ...' She left a little pause for dramatic effect, then added playfully: 'I don't know if you'll want to hear ...'
'Of course I do.'
'People say his ghost haunts the valley.'
'It's up to you whether you believe me, Benni, but that's what they say. That's why I'd never, ever want to spend the night alone here.' She snuggled closer.
'Have you seen him?' he asked, waiting for her to stop messing about, but at the same time deriving a sneaking enjoyment from the story. He loved to hear her talk, though he knew he couldn't always take what she said seriously.
'No ...' she replied, but there was something about the ensuing silence that filled Benedikt with unease. 'No, but I've sensed him ... heard ... heard things I can't explain.'
She sounded so serious that Benedikt was thrown.
'Once, when I was up here with Dad – I was only a little girl at the time and it was just the two of us – he popped out somewhere after I'd gone to bed. Anyway, I woke up to find myself alone. It was an evening in early spring so the nights were still dark. I tried to light the candle but the wick refused to catch ... and then I heard these noises and – do you know, Benni? – I've never been so scared in my life.'
Benedikt didn't say anything; he was beginning to regret having agreed to listen to her tale.
He turned his head to look at her and for a moment thought he saw genuine fear in her eyes. He closed his own, trying to shrug off the spooked feeling. Fancy falling for this kind of rubbish.
'I don't believe in ...' He didn't finish.
'That's because you don't know the whole story, Benni,' she said softly, her tone hinting at something chilling left unsaid.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Island"
Copyright © 2016 Ragnar Jónasson.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: 1987,
Part Two: Ten Years Later, 1997,
Also by Ragnar Jónasson,
About the Author,