Icelandic crime is big at the moment, what with Trapped reaching its tense conclusion on BBC 4 the Saturday before last. But I have been a fan of Icelandic crime for quite a while – ever since I read Quentin Bates’s first novel, Frozen Out, published around five years ago. I’ve read everything he’s written since then, and I’ve interviewed him on the blog, so I was delighted to be sent a review copy of his latest, Thin Ice.
For my money Officer Gunnhildur is one of the most appealing detectives currently on the scene. Gunna is an appealingly down-to-earth figure, middle-aged, not exactly chic, working hard to do a good job as a police officer, while managing a rather complicated family life. In Thin Ice, a couple of crooks rip-off a drug dealer and are dismayed to find that their getaway driver has disappeared. They highjack a car containing a wealthy woman and her daughter and end up snowed in at an off-season holiday resort. It soon becomes clear that the villains have made a serious error of judgement and that one of their hostages has more than one trick up her sleeve.
Meanwhile Gunna and her colleagues are investigating the disappearance of the women and the death of a thief in a house fire, unaware that they are related. The different threads of the story are woven skilfully together. It’s a good pacy read, well constructed, with some very unpleasant characters that you really hope will get their comeuppance – and there’s a nice sting in the tale. Quentin Bates writes about Iceland, the food (sheep’s head, anyone?), the weather, and the social mores with an unshowy confidence that comes from ten years living there. Well-written, satisfying, thoroughly enjoyable. I’m looking forward to the next one.
Something that has surprised me a little bit recently: a couple of old friends who’ve told me that they have gone over entirely to ebooks. One is my dear friend, Pauline, whom I’ve known since we were eleven. Books and magazines were and are an important part of our friendship (Pauline is my most loyal reader). As a teenager she had a splendid collection of Superman comics and we used to read Agatha Christie and work out the solution on paper. Dear, dead days . . . She has still got her books from childhood. I don’t think she’ll mind my saying that technology is not her thing, but she has run out of room for books, so now she reads ebooks pretty much exclusively. The other person is my old university friend, Gary. He is technologically savvy, so it’s not such a surprise to learn that he reads everything on his iPad. His wife, though, reads only print books. And I have to say that is my preference, too.
I wonder how many others have thrown in their lot with one or the other. I’ve had an e-reader for three years now, and after a honeymoon period, I have settled on print as my default position. I do use the e-reader when travelling or on holiday and it is also useful if I can’t sleep or wake up early and don’t want to disturb my husband. It is real luxury not to have to get up and go somewhere else to read. So I wouldn’t be without it. But as a general rule, I would rather have a book in my hand. Any book in which you might want to move back and forwards, which I tend to do, is much better read in print. I also have a regrettable tendency to get a certain way into a book and then leave it, coming back to it days or even weeks later, and it’s much easier to skim a print book to remind yourself of what’s happened so far. A print book, even a humble paperback, can be an attractive object. A print book can remind you of the friend or lover who gave it to you – or the time in your life when you bought it or first read it. You can’t write a sentimental inscription or a declaration of undying love in an ebook. I like a book to take up space in the world (though I realise that it is also an argument in favour of e-books that they don’t take up space). I like to see a book on the shelf waiting for me to read it – or reread it. And if I’m not going to read it again, I like to give it to a friend or take it to a charity shop and set it free to find another reader.
So there it is. Print for me. How about you?
Or should they have their own section in book shops? Waterstones in Sheffield has recently reordered their shelves to slot the crime in with the other fiction – and I don’t like it. Hatchards on St Pancras station have done it too. I can appreciate the argument in favour: it is all literature and perhaps if crime fiction has its own section this implies that crime is something different (and perhaps lesser?). But when I am in the mood for crime – and I so often am – I want to browse crime fiction and nothing else. I don’t want to have to scan all the other fiction too.
To make it worse, short story collections aren’t grouped together. I was looking for the new British Library Golden Age collection, Serpents in Eden: Countryside Crime, and couldn’t work out where it might be, until I thought of looking under E for Martin Edwards, the editor.
Please, Waterstones, go back to your old ways and put all the crime fiction together with collections of short stories at the beginning like you used to do. I’ll be more likely to find what I want and buy it.