Please don’t take my tardiness in posting this review as any kind of oracle. I’ve simply been busy at work so, even though I gobbled the book greedily, it has taken me far too long to explain why I enjoyed it so much.
Frozen Out (titled Frozen Assets in the US) opens when a man who appears to be drunk or drugged is helped out of a car and over the parapet of a quay into the chilly waters of an Icelandic harbor. By page two, we meet the cop who will investigate the “accident” – Gunhilder Gisladottir, known to all as Gunna the Cop. She is a middle-aged widow, the mother of two, and a thoroughly capable detective who has been posted to Hvalvik, a backwater town outside the capital.
Her first task is to find out who fell into the water, then to figure out how he got there. Her search takes her to the headquarters of a public relations firm involved in the controversial construction of an aluminum plant and to the offices of government officials who are also caught up in the financing of the plant. She’s accompanied by a wet-behind-the-ears reporter who is writing a profile of her. Though he’s told to look for “a big fat lass with a face that frightens the horses” he sees Gunna as a woman with an “angular, handsome face” and an authoritative presence that she uses to pursue a case that nobody seems terribly interested in seeing solved.
Gunna makes an appealing and down-to-earth heroine, determined to do her job and able to organize her limited resources ably. The story, with backdrops in the police investigation and in a newsroom, is punctuated by posts from an anonymous “Skandalblogger” who dishes dirt on the close ties between Icelandic businesses, banks, and the government, always ending his (or her) dispatches with a cheery “Baejo!” The snarky blog posts chronicle the moment in time when overheated deals, lax government oversight, and dubious banking practices are taking the country into a crash that will shake the country to its core and be felt around the world.
That said, this isn’t a financial thriller, it’s a police procedural grounded in the kind of fair-play decency and good sense that is currently Iceland’s greatest asset. The author, who lived for many years in Iceland, has done a good job of bringing the setting alive and making not just the landscape but the social context very real. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, due to be released in January. You can learn more about Quentin Bates and Iceland in an interview with the author.