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.
That’s a sore point these days. There used to be a couple of very decent bookshops near where I live in England, but online shopping killed them both off. Now I have to travel a few miles to get to the nearest Blackwells, run by the excellent @booksellerjo. So the bookshop I always head for is the one run by Bragi Kristjónsson on Hverfisgata in Reykjavík. It’s called Bókin (the Book) but referred to by everyone as Bókabúð Braga (Bragi’s Bookshop). It’s a second-hand shop and a chaotic wonderland of the weird, the wonderful and the mundane all rolled into one, plus the old chap himself behind the counter taking snuff and telling stories, not that he’s there as often as he used to be. Then there are the bookstalls in the Kolaport flea market that are always good for a browse for something obscure in English or Icelandic that’s been out of print for decades.