Title: The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Historical (80s), Supernatural Elements, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From Ragnar Jónasson, the award-winning author of the international bestselling Ari Thór series, The Girl Who Died is a standalone thriller about a young woman seeking a new start in a secluded village where a small community is desperate to protect its secrets.
Teacher Wanted At the Edge of the World
Una wants nothing more than to teach, but she has been unable to secure steady employment in Reykjavík. Her savings are depleted, her love life is nonexistent, and she cannot face another winter staring at the four walls of her shabby apartment. Celebrating Christmas and ringing in 1986 in the remote fishing hamlet of Skálar seems like a small price to pay for a chance to earn some teaching credentials and get her life back on track.
But Skálar isn’t just one of Iceland’s most isolated villages, it is home to just ten people. Una’s only students are two girls aged seven and nine. Teaching them only occupies so many hours in a day and the few adults she interacts with are civil but distant. She only seems to connect with Thór, a man she shares an attraction with but who is determined to keep her at arm’s length.
As darkness descends throughout the bleak winter, Una finds herself more often than not in her rented attic space—the site of a local legendary haunting—drinking her loneliness away. She is plagued by nightmares of a little girl in a white dress singing a lullaby. And when a sudden tragedy echoes an event long buried in Skálar’s past, the villagers become even more guarded, leaving a suspicious Una seeking to uncover a shocking truth that’s been kept secret for generations.
The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson is an atmospheric mystery set in a remote Icelandic village during the mid-1980s.
Una is a teacher in Reykjavík who is barely scraping by. With one exception, most of her friends have drifted away. Nor is Una close to her mother or stepfather. When her best friend shows her an ad for a teacher in the remote fishing village of Skálar, Una is at first not overly interested in the job. Since the position includes room and board along with a salary, Una decides to apply for the position. After she is hired, Una has plenty of time for doubts to set in during the long drive to the Langanes Peninsula. She is greeted warmly by Salka, the woman whose attic will be her temporary home for the next several months. Despite Salka’s welcome, Una realizes the remainder of the town’s resident are not happy she will be living among them.
Una uneasily settles into her new life and begins teaching her two young pupils. She and Salka get along but Una spends a lot of time by herself. In spite of the frigid temperatures, brisk winds and darkness, she takes walks on the beach in hopes of escaping her claustrophobic attic room. Una soon learns Skálar is quite insular and not at all eager to bring her into their midst. She is intrigued by the man she meets soon after her arrival but she is confused by the mixed signals he gives her.
Una also quickly discovers Salka has failed to mention the history of her house. But after an unsettling dream that feels all too real, Una finds out about the young girl who died there sixty years earlier. She cannot get many answers about what exactly happened to her, but Una’s discomfort continues to grow over the months.
With a very spooky setting, a ghostly presence and a shocking death, The Girl Who Died is an engrossing mystery with supernatural elements. The characters are three-dimensional and quite interesting. The chapters alternate between the events occurring the present and another unknown narrator who is facing an uncertain fate. Skálar, the winter weather and the oppressive darkness provide an unnerving backdrop for this suspenseful mystery to unfold. Ragnar Jónasson brings this mesmerizing mystery to a very unanticipated but satisfying conclusion. I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend to readers of Icelandic mysteries.