My most recent review is of Quentin Bates’ new crime novel Frozen Assets, set in a small (imaginary) Icelandic fishing village and starring the gruffly appealing Officer Gunna. Check out Bates’ blog, Graskeggur, for more info on forthcoming titles in the series.
My review was published on Reviewing the Evidence. You can read it on their website, here, or the full text is below.
“You can’t hide in Iceland.” Or so is the hope of Officer Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gísladóttir, the stalwart, commonsensical “country copper” at the heart of Quentin Bates’s first crime novel, Frozen Assets. Although the (imaginary) small harbor village of Hvalvík sees little crime outside of traffic violations and the occasional disorderly drunk, Officer Gunna authoritatively takes over the complex investigation into the suspicious drowning of a Reykjavík man who was far too drunk at the time of his death to walk let alone drive over an hour to the Hvalvík harbor where he was found. Even more suggestive, the victim was employed by Spearpoint, a PR company with suspicious ties to some powerful Icelandic politicians, which is assisting with the development of a new and increasingly unpopular smelting plant that is being built just outside of town.
Hindered in her investigation by the unwilling employees at Spearpoint and urged by her superior to close the case as an accidental death, Gunna’s persistence is justified when yet another suspicious death -that of one of the drowning victim’s associates – is uncovered. Soon, she finds herself immersed in a complicated case that involves everyone from politicians and underhanded financiers to a scrappy group of environmental activists and a persistent gossip blogger whose merciless revelations of the foibles and misdeeds of Iceland’s elite have angered some very dangerous people.
Published by Soho Crime in the US, Frozen Assets maintains the strong and evocative sense of place that characterizes that imprint. Bates – who is himself British but has spent many years living in Iceland and working at a variety of odd jobs from netmaker to factory worker- clearly knows the country (and the countryside) well. Hvalvík–which was inspired by “…many of the quiet villages dotted around the coast of Iceland, where most people make their living from the land or the sea” – comes alive in a small luncheonette where the day’s menu consists of potatoes and a brusquely offered choice of “fish or meat?” In the small, smoky police station where the chief often opts to drive the “second best Volvo,” and where local sons and daughters divide their time between horse stables and monthly stints on fishing trawlers. And while Reykjavík is still a bustling urban hub by contrast, with a fair share of squalid basement flats and shady nightclubs, Bates draws together both locales in the mind of the reader, painting a portrait of a small and intimate country where no one can remain anonymous for long.
Gunna is also a satisfying creation–a character in the mode of Fargo‘s Marge Gunderson who patiently pursues her quarry with a gruff but straightforward charm. A talented policewoman, she transferred from the city police force to Hvalvík in the wake of her husband’s death, and is still negotiating the new balance of her life as a single mother and station chief with very few resources ad insufficient manpower.
Set in the months leading up to Iceland’s catastrophic financial collapse, the threat of imminent disaster simmers under the surface of Frozen Assets, although this tension is never quite borne out within the novel. Bates assembles a sprawling cast of idiosyncratic characters and engaging subplots – a young journalist trying his hand at the crime beat; a gluttonous taxi driver and petty offender who gets in too deep with a far more criminal set – but the abundance of these additional elements occasionally obscures the novel’s original premise. However, the raw material of Frozen Assets still makes for a gratifying read, and Officer Gunna will undoubtedly earn herself fans eager to see where her next investigation takes her.