Review: Quentin Bates – Thin Ice

512-pppxjsL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_It’s my spot on the blog tour for Thin Ice, the new novel by Quentin Bates. Iceland was a country that I’d always wanted to go to, so I signed up for the Iceland Noir event in 2013 as soon as it was announced. It was not only a wonderful festival but I was bowled over by the stunning landscape and the picturesque charms of Reykjavik. I’ve now been there three times and am already planning my next visit.

Iceland, of course, has some fine home-grown writers and Arnaldur, Yrsa and Ragnar all make regular appearances on this blog. Quentin Bates knows the country well, having lived there for over ten years and is fluent in the language. His knowledge of the country comes across in Thin Ice, where he doesn’t go overboard on descriptions of the landscape but tells a thrilling tale to the backdrop of an Icelandic winter. Two small-time crooks botch up an armed robbery, seize two hostages and hole up in an isolated hotel. Meanwhile in Reykjavik, Bates’s regular detective, Officer Gunnhildur (Gunna) investigates the disappearance of a mother and daughter and the death of a thief in a house fire.

As with previous books, Bates expertly takes the reader around the mishaps of those existing in the underbelly of Icelandic society. The minutiae that we discover is fascinating, including how seamen wash their underpants. The star of the book, as usual, is Gunna who combines practicality with an adventurous spirit.

Thin Ice is a meaty read with plenty of twists and turns. I particularly enjoyed how the pace quickened as we reached the denouement. I devoured the book over a cold, snowy February weekend and it was perfect winter reading.

Review: Arnaldur Indridason – Strange Shores

The problem with finally getting around to a book that you’ve wanted to read for a while is that you’ve often a fair idea of Strange Shoreswhat other readers think of it. No matter hard I try not to look at reviews, or quickly I skim read the ones I do see, I always get a sense of how a book has been received. So I opened Strange Shores with trepidation as I’d seen mixed reviews of the latest, and possibly last, instalment of Indridason’s series featuring Reykjavik detective, Erlendur. However, I have to say I was impressed in terms of both the plotting and the way in which Indridason seemingly concludes the outing for this particular character. If only other writers could finish a series with so light a touch.

Erlendur, on leave from his job in the Reykjavik police department, is camping in his childhood home. A frequent visitor to the place, he is continually searching for the brother whom he lost in a snowstorm when they were both children. He hears the story of a local woman, Matthildur, who also went missing years earlier on the night of a violent storm and rumours abound as to what became of her. As he begins to ask questions about the background to that fateful evening, he unwittingly begins to discover what may have also befallen his brother.

A narrative that focuses on a historic crime is a relatively common theme, in crime fiction in general and also in Scandinavian novels. It can sometimes have mixed results. There’s an immediate distance created; the lapse of time can make the action less compelling. Indridason largely solves this by aligning Erlendur’s hunt for his missing brother with the case. Although this also a decades old mystery, those familiar with the series will recognise the weight of survivor’s guilt felt by Erlundur which has haunted him through the books. The outcome to Matthildur’s disappearance is satisfyingly gruesome but, ultimately, it is the resolution, of sorts, of Erlendur’s quest that stays with the reader.

Is this it for Erlendur? A tip-off by the excellent writer, Quentin Bates, on twitter says that the next book takes Erlendur back to 1974. So this may well be the last contemporary investigation for the character. If this is the case, it’s an excellent finish to the series.

Thanks to Vintage for my copy. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.