Cold Malice: a mature Icelandic saga

maliceThis series of Icelandic investigations has reached that ‘mature’ stage in its evolution – the point where regular readers are intimately acquainted with the core characters and eagerly anticipate catching up with them in a new instalment. Officer Gunnhildur’s fans definitely won’t be disappointed this time around.

After an atypical assignment in the preceding book, Cold Breath, police detective Gunna is back on familiar territory in this story. A sudden death in strange circumstances leads her to cast an inquisitive eye over older events and an earlier death by ‘misadventure’. Or was it something more sinister?

Gunna is her usual self – brisk to the point of being brusque, bluntly straightforward in her thinking and talking. She’s a refreshingly straightforward, no-nonsense female investigator, wonderfully unencumbered by the usual literary mischief and maladies which many authors inflict upon their neurotic creations. She’s also immune to the smarmy charms of the metro-chic new bohemians whose tangled private lives could have contributed to more than one fatality.

Their secrets range from merely immoral misdeeds to fatal criminal conspiracies – and the threat of discovery combined with potentially profitable illicit opportunities start yet more unlawful dominos tumbling…

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As if that’s not enough complexity, author Quentin Bates adds another layer to this carefully constructed tale, with an overlapping plot about the familial ties that bind parent and child. A father pulled off a near-perfect disappearance a decade ago, but risks his new life to re-establish contact with his old family when one of his offspring takes a criminal turn. He attracts a whole bunch of trouble by showing his face again – risking the safety of the very people he is trying to protect.

This isn’t one of the breathless action-adventure thrillers which you gallop through at a pell-mell pace. It pays to take a metaphysical stroll through the pages, maintaining your attention as the intertwined storylines play out. You will definitely need to wrap your head around a metric tonne of Icelandic names and multi-generational relationships – because the domestic lives of the investigators and their complicated familial arrangements form connecting threads throughout this series.

Equally, this isn’t one of those dark, brooding Icelandic sagas full of nameless dread and Nordic angst. Instead Bates writes about solidly bluff Icelanders, the families of forthright fishermen whose personalities have been formed over decades by the same windswept forces that shape the shores of this fiery island. Don’t expect poetic licence in spooky isolated settlements, or trendy tourist blue lagoons. The characters of this story are time-served grafters who carve a hard living in Reykjavík’s sidestreets. And that’s what gives Cold Malice its unique appeal; the solid core of complete credibility which Bates bring to this complex genre.

8/10
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Cold Malice by Quentin Bates is available at Amazon
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Looking for more mature crime fiction?
CharmAdSeek out The Redemption Of Charm at Amazon

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