Book name: Outside
Author: Ragnar Jonasson
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Format: Print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Murder mystery
Publication Date: 2022
Star Rating: 4/5
Some murder mysteries fall clearly within that genre right from the start. Others take a little longer to reveal their true nature.
When Outside by Ragnar Jonasson begins, Daniel has flown home to Iceland for a reunion hunting trip with his old college friends.
Over time, the four of them have grown apart.
There is a sinister mix of old grievances and mysteries, coupled with a current resentment about varying levels of personal success.
Daniel regrets taking the trip. It is winter, he isn’t interested in the hunting trip and doesn’t even have a gun.
His acting career isn’t as successful in the UK as he pretends, and even when he arrives in Iceland he already feels weary of having to play a role with his oldest friends.
Helena is still grieving the death of her husband Vikingur from exposure and frostbite.
She also becomes uncomfortable around Gunnlaugur after he becomes intoxicated and makes unwanted sexual advances.
Armann is the group leader. A professional tour guide, he is also Helena’s brother.
Gunnlaugur has been accused of raping a woman, but has never been charged with the offence.
However, his old friends know all about the attack and his alcoholism, which he has struggled to put behind him.
Partway through the trip, the weather worsens and the group take refuge in a shooting hut.
It is spartan, and they have to break into it, but the hut gives them enough protection from the weather to avoid dying of exposure.
Inside, to everyone’s horror, a barely conscious man holds a loaded gun. They are unable to find out more about who he is or what has happened, but Helena and Daniel volunteer to brave the storm again to fetch help.
Helena falls down and asks Daniel to go on alone. She returns to the hut, where alcohol and his loaded weapon are turning Gunnlaugur into more of a threat than the man sitting the corner.
Heavy drinking, paranoia, isolation and the physical threat from the cold and the mysterious man get too much for Gunnlaugur.
Outside was a surprising novel.
The fact that the resolution lay well in the past, with previous sins coming to haunt the present, was very thoroughly well-shadowed.
The story was shared by all four members of the group, each of whom routinely acted as the point-of-view character, making it impossible to tell who was the murderer or how they intended to commit the crime in advance.
I found Outside fascinating and enjoyed every page. It felt very different to most murder mysteries, where the presence of authority figures and the early commission of a crime set the tone.
Instead, the focus was on past events and how they defined the group’s interactions with each other in the here and now. The climax was superb, and the whole reading experience was very satisfying indeed.
Thank you for reading my review.
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