What better to read on a hot summer day than a chilling thriller set in, well, Iceland? In Outside, Reykjavik native and internationally bestselling author Ragnar Jónasson turns the snowy “fjord-indented coastline [and] reindeer-haunted wilderness” of the Nordic island’s eastern highlands into an antagonist just as dangerous to the book’s central characters as the murderer (or perhaps murderers?) in their midst.
At first, there’s no thought of life-threatening peril when four college friends reunite for a woodsy weekend hike to hunt ptarmigan and catch up on one another’s lives. There’s Daniel, an aspiring actor who lives in London; Gunnlaugur, an argumentative lawyer; Helena, an inscrutable engineer; and Ormann, a wealthy tour company owner and leader of their trip.
An unexpected blizzard catches the quartet off guard, its fierce winds and zero visibility sending them into survival mode. Ormann knows of a hut they can hole up in until the worst of the weather passes—but just getting there is onerous as the snow piles higher, the air gets colder and the mostly amateur hikers’ nerves become frayed.
Once they get to the cabin, things get even scarier as frustration transforms into fear and life-or-death decisions are made more difficult by years-old resentments boiling up to the surface. Their paranoia grows in the cabin’s suffocatingly small space as Helena thinks to herself, “Guns, isolation, fear, and uncertainty—they were such an explosive cocktail.”
Jónasson inspires fast page turns via quick cuts among the four characters as they reflect on the past (so many secrets!) and frantically strategize about the present. Mini cliffhangers keep the story humming along; the author doesn’t shy away from ending chapters with lines like, “He had never been so afraid in his life.”
Spare prose and brisk pacing make for an immersive read that’s less about the individual characters and more about what they become when they’re forced together, no longer able to dissemble or hide. Will they work together to save themselves before it’s too late? Can they? Outside is an intriguing study of isolation, claustrophobia and the particular menace to be found in beautiful yet unforgiving terrain.