Ragnar Jónasson Q&A: ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd had a great impact on me’

‘The truth isn’t to be found in books, not even good books, but in people who have a kind heart’

Ragnar Jónasson: Being a lawyer by day and writer by night has taught me that there aren’t enough hours in the day

Snowblind (Orenda Books)Opens in new window ]

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

I started reading Agatha Christie novels at a young age, around 11, and I think that the brilliance of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd had a great impact on me. I’ve been a fan of detective and crime novels ever since and subsequently started translating and writing crime fiction.

What was your favourite book as a child?

In addition to various foreign writers, I think my favourite Icelandic childhood writer was Armann Kr Einarsson, who wrote numerous popular books for kids in Iceland.


And what is your favourite book or books now?

I have many, and they keep changing. Agatha Christie and PD James are constant favourites. Recently I have been very impressed with Peter May’s The Blackhouse, Andrew Taylor’s Bleeding Heart Square and Peter Temple’s Truth.

What is your favourite quotation?

“Sannleikurinn er ekki í bókum, og ekki einu sinni góðum bókum, heldur í mönnum, sem hafa gott hjartalag,” said Icelandic Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness, which loosely translates as: “The truth isn’t to be found in books, not even good books, but in people who have a kind heart”.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

As a big fan of crime fiction I will mention Hercule Poirot and Adam Dalgleish.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

Not sure about that. I can however tell you who my favourite current Irish writer is, Dr John Curran. He doesn’t write fiction but he writes about detective fiction with great insight.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?

I tend to prefer traditional books if possible, but I do read ebooks as well.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

A jubilee edition of Iceland’s ancient manuscript Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda, beautifully printed photocopies of the original manuscript, which dates from the early 1300s.

Where and how do you write?

I mostly write at home, when the family has gone to sleep.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

I think the wonderful crime novels of PD James changed the way I thought about crime fiction – at the very least.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

The level of research varies according to what I’m writing about – but this March, I spent a very cold and frosty night in an uninsulated cabin in a snowbound Icelandic mountain valley to prepare for a novel that partly takes place there.

What book influenced you the most?

Reading the Icelandic sagas, such as Njal’s Saga, is a great influence for any writer.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

Probably one Agatha Christie book and one Icelandic saga.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

I don’t think one should have any such regrets, but rather read whatever you enjoy at that point in time.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Just write.

What weight do you give reviews?

Any constructive criticism can certainly be helpful.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

It’s very hard to predict, but it’s obvious that the industry is trying to adapt to modern techology and changes, such as ebooks, the impact of social media etc., but I think books will continue to be as relevant as before.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

It’s hardly a writing trend, but I’ve noticed an increased interest in the Golden Age of detective stories, a very positive thing.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

That depends on which good book I’m reading at any given time. One book about life which I’ve recently read and loved is The Greenhouse by Icelandic author Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir, a wonderful read.

What has being a writer taught you?

Being a lawyer by day and writer by night has taught me that there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Agatha Christie, PD James, Noel Coward, Halldór Laxness, Icelandic author Elias Mar, and the author of Njal’s Saga, whoever that was (no one knows for sure).

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

More or less anything written by Noel Coward. A recent novel I read which I really enjoyed, partly because of its strong sense of humour, was Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist.

What is your favourite word?

There are two, Kira and Natalia, my daughters’ names.

If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?

I think I would enjoy writing about Reykjavik in the early 20th century, the 1930s or 1940s.

What sentence or passage or book are you proudest of?

I’m very proud of Snowblind, the first book in my Dark Iceland series, because it is set in a town that means very much to me, where my grandparents lived and where my father grew up. I had fun writing the descriptions of the snowbound town.

What is the most moving book or passage you have read?

One of my favourite is an Icelandic poem called Soknudur (Missing) by Johann Jonsson, which has these wonderful opening lines, which I won’t try to translate because it would be hard to do them justice: “Hvar hafa dagar lífs þíns lit sínum glatað, og ljóðin, er þutu um þitt blóð frá draumi til draums”.

If you have a child, what book did you most enjoy reading to them?

More or less anything, sometimes it’s children’s books, sometimes travel books with pictures of faraway countries, sometimes we simply browse the encyclopaedia, and recent graphic novel editions of some of Agatha Christie books are popular with my elder daughter.