Author – Quentin Bates
Published – 2011
Genre – Crime fiction
This proved to be a good choice as the second of my Icelandic reads. This is the first in the series by Bates featuring Officer Gunnhildur “Gunna” Gisladottir – a single mother and policewoman managing the tiny police force in the village of Hvalvik. This is a much more rural setting than Where the Shadows Lie, with more of the feel of the Iceland beyond Reykjavik and the usual tourist haunts.
The book opens with the early morning discovery of a body on the beach as the local fishermen are setting off for the day. A corpse is big news and deemed beyond the capabilities of the local officers, so Gunna must work with her colleagues from Reykjavik (just an hour away) on the investigation. She is convinced that there is more to the death than simply ‘drunk falls in sea’ and is proactive in driving the investigation forwards. When her superiors discourage her from making further progress her stubborn streak shows through.
As with Where the Shadows Lie the book is set against the backdrop of the financial crisis and the ramifications of the banking disaster. The story features a few different plotlines woven through the book. One is the “Skandalblogger”, an anonymous blogger who seems to have the inside track on both celebrity and political targets with some salacious gossip. There are some political machinations regarding corruption and environmental issues. We also see a fair amount of Gunna’s personal life as she juggles being a mother and her police duties and there is a possible romance in the offing. Bates lightens the mood with humour, and Gunna is sassy with an unusual style of interrogation.
Gunna makes a great lead character. Described by one of her colleagues as “a big fat lass with a face that frightens horses” she is calm and capable and whilst she seems to be generally happy to take a pragmatic approach she has a stubborn streak when she believes that justice may not be done. She’s a positive character and role model with none of the traditional hang-ups of fictional detectives, although there is some mystery over what happened to her late husband. In fact she reminded me of Thora Gudmundsdottir from the novels by Yrsa Sigurdardottir.
Perhaps there is too much going on – quite a lot of background and other characters where Gunna could so obviously spend more time taking centre stage. Nevertheless, an enjoyable start to a series that I will want to read more of, and a real feeling of rural Iceland and its people.
If you’re interested in reading the series there is an offer at The Book People of three books for £4.99 – http://www.thebookpeople.co.uk/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/qs_product_tbp?productId=435165&storeId=10001&catalogId=10051&langId=100&searchTerm=bates
Score – 4/5