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Thursday 25 October 2012
‘Cold Comfort’ by Quentin Bates
It is so refreshing to read a crime fiction story where the chief protagonist is likeable, efficient, humorous and, above all, happy! No inner torment, no problem children, no existentialist angst or Scandinavian gloom. Just an ordinary unglamourous woman doing her job the best she can, especially given the logistical difficulties caused by Iceland's economic state since the financial crash, which means no car-pool for the police, and almost no personnel available to investigate serious crimes. I also very much liked the compassionate tone with which she dealt with her suspects, her tacit acceptance that at a basic level, we are all frail and flawed human beings.
The plot follows two strands. The first is the death of Svana, a high-class part-time hooker and former TV fitness guru, found dead in her luxurious apartment in Reykjavik. The second concerns Long Ommi, an escaped convict who is apparently thirsting for revenge and getting it by savagely beating up as many of the people responsible for sending him down as he can find.
Can the two possibly be connected? The murder victim is involved with a syndicate of wealthy and influential men who share her services among themselves. The second is a violent criminal from the lowest echelons of Icelandic society.
Quentin Bates is a talented plotter, and I was riveted as Sergeant Gunna and her team gradually teased out the connections between the two, despite efforts from both ends of the social spectrum to prevent her from doing so. He also knows Iceland well, and it was fascinating to see what could have been a standard police procedural translated into an alien ambience.
Reviewer: Susan Moody
Quentin Bates was brought up in the south of England. Quentin took up the offer of a gap year working in Iceland in 1979, and found himself spending a gap decade there. During the 1980s he acquired a family, a new language and a new profession, before returning to the UK in 1990. Since then he has been, among other things, a full-time marine journalist. His series features Sergeant Gunnhildur working in Reyjavik. His first book was Frozen Out.