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A Life In Reverse: Ragnar Jónasson’s Hulda Series Published By Penguin

A Life In Reverse: Ragnar Jónasson’s Hulda Series Published By Penguin

Björn Halldórsson
Photos by
Sigurjón Ragnar

Published November 8, 2017

This coming March will see the publication of Ragnar Jónasson’s latest thriller in English by publishing house Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books. Ragnar has already established himself as a major author among the wave of Scandinavian crime writers currently sweeping the UK markets through his ‘Dark Iceland’ series, which is published by Orenda Books and already spans five novels. “It’s been amazing working with Karen Sullivan at Orenda,” says Ragnar. “The reception of the ‘Dark Iceland’ series in the UK was completely overwhelming and exceeded my wildest hopes. I’m very grateful for that.”

A female detective in her 60s

His forthcoming thriller is titled ‘The Darkness,’ and as well as being Ragnar’s first book with Penguin, it’s the first part of a new crime fiction trilogy called ‘The Hulda Series.’ The series subverts many of the conventions of Nordic Noir, especially in terms of its major protagonist: Hulda Hermannsdóttir. “Hulda started to take shape before I had any sense for the storyline,” Ragnar explains. “At the outset, I just wanted to write a crime novel where the protagonist was a woman over 60; someone who had had to break her way through the glass ceiling of the police force. Gradually her back-story and outlook filled out, until I knew everything about her, down to the smallest details.”

“I wanted to write a crime novel where the protagonist was a woman over 60.”

The trilogy is a different beast from Ragnar’s ‘Dark Iceland Series,’ which was set in the remote fishing village of Siglufjörður and centered around local policeman Ari Thor. “You learn something new with every book, but the biggest difference is probably that Hulda’s story was there from the beginning, while Ari’s story developed gradually from one book to another,” Ragnar says. “I knew who she was before I ever put pen to paper. The three books form a narrative of her life, even though each book is centered around a criminal investigation.”

On the brink of retirement

This character-driven arc is amplified by the fact that the series is told in reverse chronology, providing readers with an eerie sense of foreboding as they move from one book to the next. “In ‘The Darkness,’ when we first meet Hulda, she is 64 years old and approaching retirement,” explains Ragnar. “In ‘The Island’ [spring 2019] she’s in her fifties and in ‘The Mist’ [spring 2020] she is in her forties. Throughout the series, the readers become acquainted with the major events that have shaped her: her childhood in foster care, her complicated relationship with her mother and her search for her father, as well as her tragic relationships with her husband and daughter.”

“Travelling backwards in time was always the plan.”

At a time when more and more crime authors are resorting to prequels to address and expand the backstory of thoroughly established protagonists, it is undeniably refreshing to be provided with such a premeditated excursion into a character’s past. Ragnar makes it clear that such an unravelling was always his intent. “That’s what got me started,” he exclaims. “This idea of telling a character’s life story in reverse. Once all three books are out I don’t think we’ll see any more Hulda stories. Her story will be over; told from beginning to end—or vice versa.”


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