This Icelandic police procedural is set prior to the credit crunch, before the dominos started tumbling and an economic house of cards on the fringe of northern Europe collapsed completely. So Frozen Out operates on two separate but interlinked levels. It’s a humdrum local investigation, with a shrewd but going-nowhere rural female police officer dragged away from her usual workload (traffic problems, kids smoking shock! dope) to deal with a suspicious death. In the way of suspicious deaths, the initial corpse rapidly multiplies providing the main investigative thread of the tale.
Frozen Out’s alternative narrative is a tale of political, economic and environmental intrigue, where dirty deals are done at the highest levels to privatise national assets, to industrialise ecological preserves, and to line the pockets of all involved. So far, so Borgen.
There’s a credible mystery here, plenty of interesting characters – not least the pugnacious female detective who just for once (hurrah!) doesn’t have a drink problem or kids who hate her or deeply twisted psychoses of her own. Sure, she’s been a bit battered by life, but she’s a likeable, competent, intuitive and thorough professional. Yay for positive role models.
Her opposite number, a sinister foreigner, ex-special forces, is a little less plausible but satisfyingly bad. He’s almost a caricature of the universal villain from central casting, and author Quentin Bates uses him to best effect; mostly in the shadows, part menace, part seduction.
Where Frozen Out left me cold (sorry) was in its odd lack of authentic atmosphere. It generated no real sense of place for me. The supporting characters all had the right names, like Snorri and Haddi and Someonesdottir; and they occasionally stopped at old style cafes to eat stewed sheep’s brains and seal blubber soup. But there was no bite to the air, no sense of overwhelming isolation, or the everlong winter evening, or the weird white nights of summer. If you took away the telltale names, you’d be hard pressed to identify the location. Quentin Bates assembles all the right components for his ‘Icelandic noir’ but the core sensation of sinister oppression, of internalised isolation, is missing. It’s a lot more upbeat than most Scandinavian fiction.
There are some great jokes and observations (like the police station’s second-best Volvo and the extremely entertainingly, frequently crude / lewd gossip blog), but little tension and few surprises. We’re told the story from multiple perspectives, knowing more than the investigators do, so there are few twists or turns apart from at the very end.
Solid, then, if unspectacular. I’d be happy to spend more time with Gunna but wasn’t inspired to immediately download the sequel.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Frozen Out by Quentin Bates is available in paperback and hardback formats