This is the third outing for Sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir, a delightful protagonist for a police procedural series set in Iceland. Quentin Bates is English, but he lived in Iceland, and his experiences lend an authentic air to his novels. While the plot of this third novel had my attention wandering a bit more than in the previous two, Gunna keeps me reading. She’s a delightful sleuth: competent, funny, and self-aware. She’s a refreshing change from the tortured, flawed detective genre. She has her own issues (she’s about to become a grandmother before her fortieth birthday), but she handles her challenges with aplomb and her personal life, while an interesting component, does not distract from her sleuthing.
These novels take place in post-recession Iceland, and the financial state of the country infuses them. The names take a bit of getting used to, and there are Icelandic references that have me googling to get the punchline: “‘Isn’t it a terrible name?’ Skuli said with a smile. ‘It doesn’t get much more nineteenth centruty than Hrobjartur Bjarnthorsson. It’s like something out of Laxness.'”
Still, if you (like me) know nothing about Icelandic politics, culture, or history, Bates helps you along: “Gunna and Helgi had retired to a corner of the hotel’s bar to confer while the forensic team and the police pathologist examined the room where they had left the late Johannes Karlsson still strapped to the bed he had died on. ‘Independence or Progressive?’ ‘Independence Party, I think. I wouldn’t want to think that he was one of us,’ Helgi said in a severe tone. ‘One of you, you mean. I’d prefer it if you didn’t take me for a Progressive Party supporter, thank you very much.’ ‘Sorry. I never saw you as anything but a bleeding heart liberal, Gunna.'”
“‘Helgi and I are on an early shift, Eirikur. If you’re starting at twelve, I suggest we meet at the bus station for lunch, compare notes and move on from there. Show of hands?’ Helgi and Gunna put their hands up. Eirikur sat on his. ‘Why do you two always want to meet up at places full of old people?’ ‘Because they serve sheep heads and mashed swede at the bus station,’ Helgi said, salivating at the thought. ‘Proper old-fashioned food. The kind I don’t get at home any more.’ ‘Plus you can park at the bus station. It’s not far from here and it’s not full of yuppies and terrible music. So, motion carried two to one. The bus station it is.'” Later, the Eirikur/Gunna relationship is teased out: “‘What do we have, young man?’ Gunna asked, knowing that Eirikur intensely disliked being addressed as ‘young man.'”
In this installment, a shipowner is found dead, tied to a bed in a fancy hotel. At the same time, Gunna is asked to investigate a stolen government laptop, but Joel Inge Bragason, the official who lost the laptop, isn’t forthcoming about how he lost it, and the ministry declines to provide any details as to what sensitive information it might contain. Gunna sees this as a waste of time until the theft intersects with her murder investigation. Someone is luring wealthy men to hotels, tying them up, and robbing them. And who would report this kind of crime? These are married, prominent men who have to swallow their loss. We also see the point of view of Hekla, the thief and Baddo, a criminal chasing Hekla. These are the parts where my attention sometimes wandered, but it didn’t go far as we came back around to Gunna tracking down leads and teasing out connections to bring the case to its conclusion.
The first two books in the series are FROZEN ASSETS and COLD COMFORT.
Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title courtesy of the publisher.