A body is discovered washed ashore on the beach of a rural Icelandic fishing village. It is the beginning of a series of events that will pile up the problems for the village’s police sergeant Gunnhildur. She is obliged to sort the matter out expeditiously, but is convinced that the death was not an accident – and Gunnhildur begins to investigate the hours leading up to the death. Then a second murder occurs, and Gunnhildur finds herself in another dangerous (and very different) world. The above may suggest an entry in the burgeoning army of Nordic crime writers, but Quentin Bates is, in fact, English — although he worked in Iceland for his gap year. Like Michael Ridpath, another English writer who has been tempted to take on the Scandinavian army on their own territory, Bates demonstrates that he has the requisite nous to ensure that an atmospherically realised sense of place is crucial to a novel such as this. There is no denying that the writing here (as, in fact, with Michael Ridpath) is subtly different from that of native Icelanders, but it’s none the worse for that. It’s not really a question of getting the references right, but something to do with the subtle undertones and nuances that mark out this frigid territory. Having said that, some of the very best American films were made by outsiders (think, above all, of Alfred Hitchcock), and this new trend of non-Nordic Nordic writers moving in alien territory looks set to forge much intriguing work.
Frozen Out is published by Robinson