Gunnhildur Gisladottir, otherwise known as Gunna the Cop, is an experienced sergeant who runs a police team in Hvlalvik, south-west Iceland. She’s dedicated and talented, but being a middle-aged woman she’s been sidelined by various ambitious (mainly) male colleagues who have ended up with plum jobs in more central locations. Gunna is happy enough, though: she loves her job and though she’s had sadnesses in her past (revealed as the book progresses) she lives a calm-enough existence with her teenage daughter, occasionally visited by her grown-up son.
The calm does not last for long, though, as a young man’s body is found early one morning in the harbour, by one of the local fishermen. Gunna soon tracks down his identity, which causes her unpleasant boss palpitations. Gunna isn’t deterred by this nervousness from on-high, of course, and pursues her investigation relentlessly, soon connecting the death with a hit-and-run accident of a year or so ago elsewhere in the country, and gradually realising that many forces – environmental, financial and more – are involved.
Iceland is rich in crime fiction – Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s novels, the former police procedurals featuring a depressed detective inspector and the latter mysteries solved by the insatiably curious Thora, an independently minded lawyer, are translated into English and deservedly popular internationally. Michael Ridpath last year published the first in a series of Iceland-set thrillers, which provide a more tourist-like perspective of the country. Quentin Bates’s novel is a welcome addition to this geographical genre. The book is a classic police procedural: extremely well written with a good ear for dialogue and characterisation. It is replete with local detail and will satisfy the most avid person’s curiosity about the Icelandic way of life (including the diet!) and psyche. (The author has lived in Iceland for many years.) Gunna is an admirable protagonist: sensible, intelligent and determined. The plot is strong and with its interspersed chapters by an anonymous blogger who writes scandalous pieces about the country’s great and the good (much to their discomfort) bang up to date – not least in its themes of financial meltdown. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and can recommend it very highly as a flying start to what seems to be shaping up to be a superb new series.