With his thrillers centered on cop Ari Thór Arason (Snowblind; Rupture) and detective Hulda Hermannsdóttir (The Darkness; The Island; The Mist), Ragnar Jónasson has proved himself to be a go-to author for Nordic noir. The Girl Who Died delivers Jónasson's usual sublime atmospheric puzzle but with bonus chills, courtesy of an apparently haunted house.
It's 1985, and 30-year-old substitute teacher Una is languishing in Reykjavík when she reads a seductive ad: "Teacher wanted at the edge of the world." She lands the winter-term-only job, which brings her to the remote village of Skálar, population 10 per the last census. The job includes accommodations in the home of Salka, a single woman on the local council, and Salka's seven-year-old daughter, one of the two kids Una will teach. The job is a cakewalk, although Una wishes the villagers weren't quite so obvious with their opinion of her as an interloper, and she could do without the intermittent confrontations with a ghostly presence at Salka's house. When tragedy strikes at the village Christmas concert, Una must deal with the obfuscating darkness of both Skálar in winter and its citizens.
The Girl Who Died is interwoven with passages recounting a notorious murder in Iceland that bears on the happenings in tucked-away Skálar. Not for the first time, Jónasson demonstrates a gift for capturing the particular loneliness that attends physical isolation. Of course, Una's alienation is exacerbated by the personal demons she's fighting, not all of which come from the bottle she keeps handy. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer