Thursday, April 7, 2011
Frozen Assets, by Quentin Bates
Soho Press, 2011
Frozen Assets is both the author's first novel and the first entry of a new series featuring Gunnhildur Gisládottir of the Hvalvik police in Iceland. Gunna is in her mid-thirties, a widowed mother of two, and used to dealing with small town crimes like speeding and the occasional uncooperative drunk. But things change when the body of a drunken stranger is discovered floating in the water of a small boat dock with no ID except an odd tattoo. In trying to identify the dead man, her investigation leads her to a company called Spearpoint, a PR firm headquartered in Reykjavik which just incidentally happens to have an interest in a development project in Hvalvik. The inquiries remain pretty routine until one of the staff at Spearpoint reveals to Gunna that some time back, a friend of the dead man had been killed in a car accident. Gunna begins to wonder if there is a link between the two deaths, and the investigation takes off from there, with Gunna setting her sights on catching a killer and not letting up until the job is done.
But wait...there's much more. Interwoven into the main story are entries from an anonymous and elusive "Skandalblogger," a muckraker who seems to have his or her finger on the pulse of what's happening in government circles and in the private lives of connected others, such as the owner of Spearpoint, Sigurjóna Huldudottír and her randy sister, two of the blogger's favorite targets. The blogger's mission is to expose high-level government corruption and personal greed that affects the average tax-paying citizen, while simultaneously spilling personal secrets that embarrass and enrage the already high-maintenance Sigurjóna, who wants the Skandalblogger's head on a platter. As things heat up, the author also builds on the environment and Iceland's banking crisis of 2008 to add another dimension to the story. All of the various threads are eventually linked together, with enough of a hint of a series yet to be at the end.
Considering that this is the author's first novel, Gunna's character is quite well developed. She's down to earth, common sensical and follows her nose, despite unwanted interruptions from superiors. She's to the point, often brash in her role as cop, but at the same time, the reader senses some vulnerabilities within her on a personal level. And she's not a stick-figure gorgeous detective like so many authors insist on having as a main character but more on the bigger side, and is often referred to as the fat cop or even once "a big fat lass with a face that frightens the horses." It is downright refreshing to have a strong female lead character who isn't too overly concerned with her love life or lack of one, who is built like a real person and in her mid-30s and one who speaks her mind and follows her instincts and her nose. The author also does a great job with the people you come to dislike in the novel as well -- Sigurjóna, the histrionic owner of Spearpoint whose employees cringe when anything goes wrong knowing they're going to hear about it; the bad guy who has a personality as cold as glacial ice, government officials who don't care about the average citizen, and others as well.
You won't find any romance or silliness here (yay) but what you will find is an intriguing story that is well paced, with a sense of place that adds to the overall atmosphere of the story. It's definitely not in cozy league, but it's not quite as edgy or dark as an Indridason novel. What you get is something a bit lighter in overall tone that picks up as the story moves along. The author continues the trend of adding in the political and economic woes of the system, a trend I happen to like, but I know of many other people who can't get past it and want only the action of the crime and its solution. Personally speaking, I think incorporating these various elements only adds to the overall sense of place and time, creating something more realistic in the long run.
It's difficult to believe that Frozen Assets is the author's first novel. I think this one will appeal to crime fiction readers in general because of the strong lead character, and regular readers of Scandinavian crime fiction will also find it to be a good start to another ongoing series.