Frozen Assets, which was published in the UK under a different title – “Frozen Out”, takes place in Iceland at the time when the earth started to collapse beneath the big, expansive Icelandic banks. With the bursting financial bubble as backdrop, English writer Quentin Bates has written an excellent crime novel that begins with the discovery of the corpse of a drowned man near a sleepy and quite boring village not too far from Reykjavik.
Iceland is a cold and wet place, very Scandinavian. Not necessarily an easy place to write about if you are an outsider. Quentin Bates, however, is quite familiar with Iceland – he has spent a lot of time there and seems to have learned a great deal about the country and its people. Frozen Assets feels very authentic, and I was very impressed by Bates’ understanding of the “mores” of the fish-loving folks living on this little volcanic island far out in the Atlantic Ocean.
A corpse has washed up on a beach in the area where police sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir, a “big fat lass with a face that frightens the horses”, is in charge. It is quite possible that the dead man could simply have drowned. It happens. But Gunna the Cop has a feeling. And there are some strange things about the case: How did the deceased get to Hvalvik? What brought him there?
As Gunna – a strong-willed and somewhat stubborn woman who is strong on street-smarts, and has a sound understanding of how things work in Iceland – identifies the drowned man and starts to map out his movements and his networks, the case takes her away from peaceful little Hvalvik and propels her into circles in Reykjavik dominated by deceit, violence, corruption and abuse of power. A man has drowned in the middle of the night at a place more than one hundred kilometers away from where he was last seen – a man in a position to possibly possess sensitive information and Gunna wants to know how and why.
Gunna’s questions are reasonable. She does what the police are supposed to do when people die under suspicious circumstances. Even so, it seems many powerful people want her to stop digging. They know where the trail Gunna stubbornly follows will end, and want the truths hidden there to remain forever buried.
Gunna is a very interesting and quite intriguing woman, and the other characters are well drawn and fit nicely into the story. The narrative is intriguingly layered, with lots of interesting side stories and power plays: a mysterious blogger that reveals inside secrets and adds tension (‘Skandalblogger’), corrupt and greedy politicians, shady business dealings, a violent hired gun on the loose, and so on.
Frozen Assets is a very good crime fiction novel. I found the story quite compelling, warm, well-told and quite suspenseful. It’s a solid police procedural, with an excellent cast of characters that is well worth reading and is an interesting addition to the Icelandic crime fiction literature. I really liked Gunna and think she has lots of potential – I’m already waiting for the next installment in what I hope will become the Gunnhildur series of Icelandic crime!
PS: You may also want to have a look at a very interesting interview with Quentin Bates at Barbara Fister’s blog.