on 2 February 2011
This is a well crafted first crime novel by a new author featuring an Icelandic village police sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir, a "big fat lass with a face that frightens the horses", whose single-minded and sometimes unwanted investigation into a local drowning leads her and her team into the murky world of big business and corruption at high government levels.
Quentin Bates presents a study of modern Iceland and its inhabitants that cleverly encourages readers to wish to know more about both the country and sergeant Gunnhildur, hopefully pointing to future books. His comments and asides on things such as social niceties, food, personal names and so forth add authentic detail to his tale, Scandinavian names were not as great a problem as I first feared and in fact add a sense of place to the story. I would have wished perhaps for a little more on Icelandic flora and fauna in order to help me see the country through Gunnhildurs eyes but a minor quibble on what is otherwise an excellent book.
Iceland is presented as a country where everyone knows everyone and everyones business, moving at its owned relaxed pace but now rapidly becoming more cosmopolitan and having to deal with the problems that such modernity can bring. In this case big money, corruption and murder - never again will I think of Iceland as just fishing boats, volcanoes and Vikings!!
on 28 May 2011
This novel is set at the time of the first rumblings of the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008. It's a fairly straightforward police procedural, with a lot of legwork for the team which has been assembled to investigate two murders apparently linked to less than transparent business dealings involving at least one dodgy politician and his wife.
The real appeal of the book, however, lies in the characters and in particular Gunnhildur, a sergeant who, because of her conviction that the first death is murder, ends up leading the investigating team. Gunna is a breath of fresh air; a single parent with two children - neither of whom have drug problems, are runaways or are estranged - who uses her investigative skills, common sense, determination and leadership abilities to discover the truth.
The supporting cast is lively with some excellent characterisation; the dialogue is well written and convincing with plenty of humour throughout.
I would count myself as a fan of authors like Mankell, Nesbo, Karin Fossum and Hakan Nesser and have no problem with gritty stories and troubled main characters. It is good, though, to sometimes read a well written crime novel which is not persistently dark. This novel is more reminiscent of the Montalbano stories by Andrea Camilleri, which have great characterisation, humour and satisfying stories that are not always resolved in that justice is not always seen to be done. Gunna has the potential to be a memorable addition to detective fiction; I felt cheered by the time I finished the book, purely because of her energetic determination and her sense of excitement at what the future could hold. I hope that there is a sequel.
Gunnhildur Gisladottir, otherwise known as Gunna the Cop, is an experienced sergeant who runs a police team in Hvlalvik, south-west Iceland. She's dedicated and talented, but being a middle-aged woman she's been sidelined by various ambitious (mainly) male colleagues who have ended up with plum jobs in more central locations. Gunna is happy enough, though: she loves her job and though she's had sadnesses in her past (revealed as the book progresses) she lives a calm-enough existence with her teenage daughter, occasionally visited by her grown-up son.
The calm does not last for long, though, as a young man's body is found early one morning in the harbour, by one of the local fishermen. Gunna soon tracks down his identity, which causes her unpleasant boss palpitations. Gunna isn't deterred by this nervousness from on-high, of course, and pursues her investigation relentlessly, soon connecting the death with a hit-and-run accident of a year or so ago elsewhere in the country, and gradually realising that many forces - environmental, financial and more - are involved.
Iceland is rich in crime fiction - Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir's novels, the former police procedurals featuring a depressed detective inspector and the latter mysteries solved by the insatiably curious Thora, an independently minded lawyer, are translated into English and deservedly popular internationally. Michael Ridpath last year published the first in a series of Iceland-set thrillers, which provide a more tourist-like perspective of the country. Quentin Bates's novel is a welcome addition to this geographical genre. The book is a classic police procedural: extremely well written with a good ear for dialogue and characterisation. It is replete with local detail and will satisfy the most avid person's curiosity about the Icelandic way of life (including the diet!) and psyche. (The author has lived in Iceland for many years.) Gunna is an admirable protagonist: sensible, intelligent and determined. The plot is strong and with its interspersed chapters by an anonymous blogger who writes scandalous pieces about the country's great and the good (much to their discomfort) bang up to date - not least in its themes of financial meltdown. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and can recommend it very highly as a flying start to what seems to be shaping up to be a superb new series.
Review first published at Euro Crime, [...]
The last Icelandic thriller I tried floored me completely. The various names of all those involved left me floundering which is a bit daft considering I attend opera performances where the characters rejoice in names such as Grimgerde, Woglinde, Helmwige et al, but it just did so I decided to jot down who was who when I started Frozen Out. I soon found this was unnecessary as I had no difficulty this time at all - probably because the writing and plot were so much better than the earlier novel which I shall not name (IMHO of course).
Main protagonist and the detective heading up a murder inquiry is Gunnhildur, a no nonsense lady who is more used to dealing with local traffic and burglary than a dead body washed up on a beach. Gunnhildur is a widow with two children, a son at sea and a teenage daughter at home and, for once, though there are hints that she might like a drink too much, we have a detective who had a happy marriage until her husband's death, and one who seems fairly content with her lot. No angst for the reader to deal with which is a blessed relief.
".......in spite of the broad shoulders, the solid woman with the short fair hair was not the bruiser Haddi had given him to expect. Although she would never be a beauty, she had an angular, handsome face that radiated authority"
The death seems a natural one, the victim was drunk and fell off the quay, but those of us who are regular crimefic readers know that this is never the case and when there appears to be a link to an unsolved hit and run some months earlier, the hunt is up. The corpse in the water is identified as a man who worked for a large company in Iceland and it soon becomes clear that there are murky and fraudulent dealings going on with corruption in high places to which his death is linked.
Running alongside the police investigation, we are kept up to date with the goings on by a mysterious blogger who seems to have access to confidential information and is privy to the sexual antics of various ministers and influential businessmen and/or women, and part of the enjoyment of reading this book is to try and guess his/her identity.
Quentin Bates was born in England but ended up living in Iceland after initially going there for his gap year, which turned into a gap decade. He now lives in the UK but this book certainly utilises his knowledge of the country, along with a fascination with the recent upheaveals in Iceland's society and financial institutions of which we are all aware.
In Gunnhildur the author has created a likable, warm and sympathetic character who I took to straight away, the story is well plotted and amusing as well, particularly in the portrayal of an unspeakably awful CEO of one of the companies involved in the widespread corruption, a woman with a fearful temper and a penchant for making her Personal Assistants very personal indeed....
I found the denouement slightly vague with a few unsatisfactory matters left unresolved, including the identity of the blogger though a clue is given just before the final page is reached, but this is deliberate as the opening is now there for a further book. I do hope this is on the cards as I liked Frozen Out very much and delighted to discover another author to add to my increasing list of crime writers to Watch Out For.
Frozen Out' is the first in a new police procedure thriller series. Set in Iceland in 2008, just as the financial meltdown begins, it features Sergeant Gunnhildur (or Gunna for short).
Gunna is not young, slight and beautiful - she's a 'big girl', gruff, down-to-earth and with the habit of calling her colleagues 'lad'. However, she is a really realistic and likeable character, with a past and baggage. The author has given us snippets of her past, but not everything. She's a young widow - her husband died in an accident - but we don't know the details. She has two children and there is a mysterious love interest floating around in the background too.
The story starts when a body is washed up on Gunna's patch, at first it seems as though this was an accidental death, after all the guy's blood was almost 100% alcohol, but it soon becomes clear that there are links to the Government, to insider wheeling and dealing and corruption on all levels.
The story is also interspersed with articles written by someone known as 'Skandalblogger' - revealing dark secrets about the rich and famous, and upsetting people at the highest levels with every article.
Although the author is British, he spent a lot of time living in Iceland and this is clear from the descriptions, not just of the countryside but also the quirks of the Icelandic people are perfectly portrayed. I did have some difficulty with the very long and very strange character and place names, but they soon became familiar and this spoilt nothing of what is a fast-paced and exciting thriller.
With lots of insight into the corruption within the Government and the financial sector - yet in a very understandable and accessible way, a great plot, a fabulous new heroine - this is the first instalment in what I hope will continue to be a great police detective series.
"Frozen Out" is a crime thriller set in Iceland in the months leading up to the great world banking collapse of 2008. It sits in marked contrast to most other novels set in Iceland not least of all because it is penned by a Brit, rather than a native Icelander. The author, Quentin Bates, spent ten years living in Iceland (1979-1990), is married to an Icelander and regularly returns to visit family and friends on the island. He clearly has a great love and affinity for the place and its peoples; he writes convincingly and authoritatively about life and attitudes there. His writing contrasts markedly with that of Icelandic authors, however, in being a uniquely British novel, both in its linguistic styling and its attention to little details of the Icelandic ways of doing things which Icelanders themselves often do not think to feature being unnecessary for an Icelandic audience. That said, the narrative remains centred on issues that are highly topical and very relevant to today's Icelanders -- exploitation the country's resources by international industrial giants, destruction of the island's natural wonders, political corruption, scandal and celebrity gossip.
The result is a wonderful hybrid which, whilst never bleak or dark enough to be classed as "Nordic Noir" is nevertheless highly evocative of the raw -- and to some extent simpler -- lifestyle which is common throughout this remote island nation. The story is merely the first in a series of "Gunnhilda Mysteries", set in the fictional fishing town (Hvlalvík) located somewhere in the general vicinity of Grindavík in the Southern Peninsula of Iceland. This positioning is clever, in that this area generally isn't really on the tourist circuit and yet it sufficiently close to much that is for the environs of the novel to be familiar to anyone who has visited Iceland. It also enables the author to create a fictional assemblage of locations which serve the narrative, thus allowing a tale to be assembled that is less constrained by the realities of the land, as seems to be the case with novels by authors such as Arnaldur Indriðason ("Reykjavik Murder Mysteries"), Yrsa Sigurðardóttir ("Þóra Guðmundsdóttir Mysteries") and Ragnar Jónasson ("Dark Iceland Series" -- incidentally translated into English by none other than Quentin Bates).
By far the best aspect of the book however are the characterisations of its principals --- all somewhat larger than life but not in any overstated or stereotypical way. There is real depth to all of the characters apart from perhaps the business people and politicians; this is probably intentional and is definitely appropriate. There isn't very much mystery involved in the story, or at least, none at all around the central murders; what little there is is left pretty much for the reader to work out for themselves in the end. The story is none the less gripping for that, however, and is a cracking read for anyone who loves a police procedural and feisty lead characters.
Recommended. The series continues with "Cold Comfort".
*KINDLE READERS PLEASE NOTE: The Kindle version of this book appears to have been incorrectly formatted, at least for older versions of Amazon's eReader. When viewed on a Kindle DX and Kindle v4, each chapter appears to be entirely set in bold and centre justified text, as though the closing tags are missing from each chapter heading. In the end, I had to download the version for the iPad Kindle reader and convert this using additional software before I could read it on either of the two older devices.
on 9 August 2015
A likeable book with a likeable heroine; if rather slow in building both atmosphere and momentum. Nevertheless there are many compensations - good humour in the writing for a start, and it's reasonably well plotted and has a believable story. I also liked the way the story was placed in the context of the impending financial collapse of the Icelandic banking system, with a recognition of the political pressures that resulted and their impact on local policing.
Quentin Bates is English, not Icelandic, and I imagine the novel was written in English. Odd then that very occasionally it seems like a slightly awkward translation. But despite this the detail feels authentic and the author obviously knows the country well. I'm interested to see if future books in the Gunnhildur series provide slightly more Nordic atmosphere. It was hard to decide whether to give this three or four stars, but in the end I decided on four because it is essentially an enjoyable read that bodes well for the series.
on 26 April 2016
I began reading the series with vol two as we were holidaying in Reykjavik at the time. You will find the Icelandic names bothersome when you begin reading the books and perhaps consider giving it up but stick with it.. I was curious about the pronunciation of some names so for the first novel in the (my last one!) I bought the professional narration, which I found hilarious with the fake north of England accents etc for Gunna read Guun nar, Hvalvik is Kvalvik , Laufey is Loyfey, Bara Bowra and Skulli is Schooly.
The story is engaging but I felt the end seemed to creep up on me very suddenly and within a few pages it was all over. You will cease to be bothered by the names and you will get carried along with the well woven tales which twist and turn more often than Gunnar has a coffee.
on 30 September 2013
We've all become used to, and probably tired of, Scandinavian noir crime novels with detectives who carry massive personality disorders as part of their daily baggage, or who are addicted to one thing or another, or who fight depression as well as crime. The really refreshing thing about Frozen Out is that Bates does not give us yet another set of world-weary Scandos. Instead, here is a crime novel suffused with real-life, crime-weary, politician-weary humour.
Gunna, the main police character is wonderfully drawn, and, although she is described as fat, "with a face to scare the horses," she is, in actual fact, well-drawn, and not without a degree of less than maternalistic sensuality. For me, her moral and mental strength, lift her head and shoulders above the rest of the book's cast, although that cast, too is very well-drawn.
I enjoyed the simplicity of the language (which I think could well be the result of a decade spent in Iceland by Bates), because very often it is simplicity of language which makes novels great, where purple prose is nothing more than an author showing off after swalling a dictionary and a thesaurus.
To be able to read a crime novel that is so up to date, and which does give a glimmer of hope in dark times, is something that's always a great experience, and I was totally and utterly absorbed in this. High-quality writing at a bargain price. Go and get it!
on 7 October 2013
Oddly, I read 'Cold Comfort,' the second of the Gunnhildur novels about a large, somewhat irascible village police sergeant in Iceland, first. I loved it so much I went straight to 'Frozen Out' on the Kindle.
This story, set against a backdrop of the Icelandic economy's boom and bust, covers a series of deaths that Gunna, as the large female protagonist is known by friends and colleagues, determines are not accidental but linked to dirty political dealing and greed in high places. The story becomes a manhunt to track down the 'fixer' responsible for the deaths - though it's hampered, even in small Iceland, by bureaucratic politics.
I'm very impressed by what Quentin Bates has created on the basis of his experience of living and working in Iceland, a place unknown to many of us. The fact the author is English means, unusually for a Scandinavian novel, there's no odd translation issues - furthermore, I love the blunt humour employed (not that Scandinavians lack humour; I worked for a Norwegian company for some years and love Jo Nesbo's books). For me, the complex Icelandic names add to the depth of the reading experience rather than distracting.
Highly recommended reading, and a terrific price on Kindle.