Thin Ice is an Icelandic murder mystery written by Quentin Bates featuring Officer Gunnhildur. I always look forward to meeting a new detective and recently more so if that detective is a woman. Let’s call it the Sarah Lund Effect. Gunnhildur takes her job seriously. It narrowly takes first place in her life to her family who all seem to have accepted this fact. Gunnhildur is a no nonsense kind of detective, a quiet but effective leader to her team and while she has to present the odd press conference her main motivation is to get to the bottom of things and see justice served. In this case she has a long time drugs baron Alli the Cornershop in mind along with another undesirable Ossur Oskarsson.
As with the recent Icelandic TV show Trapped the weather takes its place as a character in the tale. Storms and snow help to pace the story when some of the main characters have to hide in a hotel which has been shut up for winter and there are a couple of hazardous car journey’s made when it probably would been wiser staying indoors. The story has a good pace from the outset and all the characters are well written. It features various places in Iceland so if you have looked at a map of the country it might enhance your understanding of the tale. Thin Ice has a satisfying ending and is a solid read. I will definitely look out for more novels written by Quentin Bates.
Nordic Noir was lucky enough to conduct an interview with Quentin as part of this tour:
How did you become a crime fiction writer?
Pretty much by chance. I’ve been writing for a long time, but never seriously considered fiction, as I had thought it was a mug’s game, very difficult to become a published author to begin with, even more difficult to stay published, and a lot of work for not a great deal of reward. So I had to give it a go. The opportunity arose to do a university writing course, and while my main interest was an afternoon off the day job once a week to sit in a warm classroom, that’s when Frozen Out began to take shape.
I recently became aware that many crime fiction writers love to follow true crime stories. Do you follow true crime? Does it influence what you write?
Not at all… I don’t follow true crime other than what I see in newspapers. Occasionally I’ll dig for a particular subject as background research, but in general I don’t read much true crime. My to-be-read pile is stuffed with mainly fiction.
Who was your favourite character to write in Thin Ice and why?
I’m not entirely sure. I’m very fond of the two inept villains, but the truly bad guys, Rafn and Alli the Cornershop were a lot of fun to invent. I’ve a feeling at the back of my mind that Gunna’s sidekick Helgi could be interesting one day. He’s a middle-aged baldie with a wicked smile and doesn’t quite manage juggling his family life that’s even more fraught than Gunna’s as he has teenage children and toddlers with the rather demanding wife no 2. He’s also a shrewd investigator, but his frantic family life and his weakness for the ladies is going to get him into a heap of trouble one day.
Will Gunnhildur appear in any other books in the future?
I hope so. I don’t have a contract for any more Gunnhildur books, and we’ll have to see how sales go before the publisher will think about that. But there are ideas waiting to be worked on, including a couple of half-written stories that I’m trying not to tinker with right away.
The normal drill is to have the outlines and opening chapters of three stories on the boil. One should become a novella, one should have enough meat on its bones to become a full-length novel, and one will probably be abandoned. So let’s say I have these three on the boil but haven’t decided yet which ones are going to work.
When I read Thin Ice there was one line that I read which struck me as very interesting when compared to crime fiction from other countries. Upon discovering ONE body that had been shot and left in the snow Gunnhildur exclaims ‘This is carnage’. Could you explain the crime situation in Iceland for the readers who are not familiar with it?
Crime is quite rare in Iceland. In spite of a healthily disdainful attitude to authority, Icelanders are pretty law-abiding. A murder is a rarity, and it’s even rare for a murder to not be solved quickly as they don’t tend to be sophisticated. There’s roughly one murder a year. Sometimes none, sometimes two, but the average is around one a year. So a murder tends to be something unusual that means the cavalry is called out. So in that scene Gunna can see things escalating to a whole new level, first a disappearance, then the death in a fire that turned out to not be a tragic accident after all, then the body in the snow. That’s a dangerously high body count by Icelandic standards.
Could you explain something about the Icelandic sense of humour for our readers.
I suppose there are several. For a long time a lot of humour was fairly slapstick, with tish-boom wisecracks that hit the wall with a big splat and you could see them coming a mile off. Then came the financial crash and that’s when homegrown satire began to come into its own and Icelandic comedians found that this was something they did rather well. Mind you, there’s no shortage of targets there.
Then there’s the old-fashioned humour that’s becoming rarer and has its roots in the rural and coastal communities. It’s an acquired taste and it’s so bone-dry that if you’re not careful, or if you don’t understand the context, it’ll fly right over your head and leave you wondering why everyone around you is sniggering into their coffee.
You are involved in the Iceland Noir festival in Reykjavik this year. Could you tell us a little about what is happening there and why we should come and visit it?
This year Iceland Noir has expanded again. Last time it was two days, this time we’ve added an extra half day. We have a great line-up of authors taking part and it was Yrsa’s suggestion that we should have an all-female list of headliners, so we have Val McDermid, Leena Lehtolainen from Finland, Viveca Sten from Sweden and Sara Blædel from Denmark. As well as the established talent, we also have a scattering of very interesting newcomers to crime fiction who will undoubtedly be big sellers one day; James Law, Steph Broadribb, Sarah Ward, Mark Hill, AK Benedict and others. So you’ll have seen them in Reykjavík first. We’re working on the panels for this year and aiming to come up with a few new ideas for these. We also have a day out somewhere, haven’t decided yet where we’ll be going, but it’ll be interesting, and there’s the optional extra of a two-day trip to Siglufjörður in the north of Iceland with Ragnar Jónasson as tour guide to the places where his Dark Iceland series is set. Oh, and there’ll be another crime walk.