Some wonderful mystery/detective stories from the land of ice and snow have been shared globally to rave reviews. What is it about midnight sun, northern lights and stark landscapes that have produced writers such as Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum and Jo Nesbo? Better question: should relative newbie Quentin Bates find room on your bookshelf next to titles by those authors?
Geographically speaking, Bates is no Stieg Larsson. Bates has lived in the Norse country (Iceland, specifically) long enough to know the culture, but he is a native of the UK. This might explain why characters in places like Hafnarfjordur say things very British - like ‘bloody hell’ and ‘bugger off.’
For better or for worse, since Bates’ native tongue is English, there is not much lost in translation.
Frozen Assets introduces a female detective named Gunna. She oversees the police squad in a small fishing village in Iceland, a small-enough town that when a body is found dead in the harbor, much buzz is created.
There is no evidence of foul play but lots of alcohol in the system of the deceased. It is not out of the question for someone to get loaded, go for a stroll, and end up with the fish. The only problem with this theory is that the dead guy is not from the area: he’s from the ‘big city’ of Reykjavik. That’s a long drive to take just to end your bar tour with a brief walk and some fresh air.
At first, the storyline is just entertaining enough to make the investment of the reader’s time pay off. The plot also provides glimpses into the recent economic and political turmoil in Iceland. As a debut main character, Officer Gunna is complex enough to want to re-visit her in future installments.
Planning on future installments, however, is probably where Bates went astray. Officer Gunna’s emerging nemesis, career advancements and personal life are built up only to be left floating by the novel’s end. It is as if Bates were developing sub-plots for the sole purpose of getting the reader to anxiously await book number two in the series.
Please! Nobody will anticipate a sequel if the prequel is unremarkable.
Pros: Mildly entertaining weave of detective work and games of cat-and-mouse with recent Icelandic political headlines; debut of main character is sufficiently charming.
Cons: Personalities are not strong enough to make up for lack of closure; some readers may have tough time remembering at first if Kringlumyrarbraut is a village, a tavern appetizer, or the road to the airport.
Bottom Line: Since Bates is a career journalist, I would think he can do better – satisfy the customers on the first novel before you try to push the second one.