Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
Today we welcome the Thin Ice blog tour.
I approached this book having recently read Nightblind – which Quentin Bates translated. Bates’ own work puts us closer to the action. Less a mystery and more an eye-witness report: we see the punches, hear the shots and smell the petrol bomb.
The premise is that a violent heist goes wrong when the getaway car fails to show. A career criminal and a more sympathetic muscle-for-hire have to disappear before their victim – Reykjavik’s Mr Big – comes in pursuit. They kidnap a mother and daughter and hole up in a closed hotel. The first half of the book explores the relationships between the four. The atmosphere fluctuates rapidly and alliances wane and wax. After a slow, but beautifully-observed few days, the plot speeds up as the cat and mouse game takes to the streets. It is that sense of skating on an unsolid surface that (I assume) provides the book’s title.
Bates gives us a classic partnership of bungling, bickering low-lifes. We hear them squabble and see them make mistakes, but there are moments when we feel sympathy for at least one of them. For much of the time the main threat to their enterprise comes from each other, rather than from Mr Big or the police. We’re also provided with what looks like a case of Stockholm Syndrome. If this were a film, it could be a more bloody fusion of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! I don’t want to over-emphasise the lolz – though there is an excellent joke that the writer gives us when the police find a dead body – this is a book that riffs mainly on tension – but I do want to draw attention to what I think is a really confident and successful multi-layering.
We are asked questions about character, and this is where Officer Gunnhildur comes in. Gunna has some things going on in her own life that relate to commitment, forgiveness and trust. As we watch the kidnapper/kidnappee quartet change shape – from rhombus to square, to triangle and beyond, Gunna reminds us that relationships are messy even for those who’d like to keep them tidy. It helps us explain some of the more unpredictable developments in the Bates Hotel.
Yet this novel does not let its ambition get in the way of telling a gripping story simply. Everything takes place in real time and the case is wrapped up (sort of, ish) in nine days. The ending is surprising, of course, but satisfying.
An intelligent and enjoyable instalment in the Gunnhilder series that can also be read on its own.
Thanks to Constable for the review copy. And you might like to check out the other blogs taking part in the tour.