‘Summerchill’ by Quentin Bates

When you murder someone, getting rid of the body can pose a problem.  So, even though you all finished work some hours ago, you ring two of your workmates (who you don’t know particularly well) and ask them to do it for you.  ‘Sure,’ they answer.

If you want to restrict your victim’s movements before you beat him up, force him to take his trousers down and wear them around his ankles.

Gullfloss Waterfall, Iceland

Gullfloss Waterfall, Iceland

Logi is a jobbing carpenter, working on building sites, alongside (mostly) migrant labourers.  Down on his luck, recently separated from his wife, he chances upon a revolver and hides it away.   Paid a call by a debt collector, whom, he presumes (wrongly) to be sent by his wife, he murders him (not with the revolver).  Logi is not an attractive character; he has no moral compass and rarely expresses any emotions or even likes or dislikes, no sense of humour, no affection for any other human being, or desire for creature comfort.  In fact, all the characters are like this.  The nearest one gets to a preference is when Polish Tadeusz abhors his pizza for being ‘pineapple yuck’.   It is impossible to feel sorry for any of the victims of the various murders and violent assaults, some of which are both graphic and unusual, because they all deserve everything they get.  An aficionado of cosy crime and someone who likes her characters to be proper characters, I almost gave up on this novel, several times, but I’m so glad I continued.   Logi has cunning.   He is inventive.   After the first few chapters, I’m on Logi’s side.  Go, Logi.

What brought me to this novel was its title, combined with the location.  Waiting for ‘the bus to the bus station’ in Reykjavik, early on a July morning two years ago, I too experienced, and relished, the summer chill – the cold, clean air of Iceland, amidst bright sunshine.   What I didn’t realise is that Summerchill is number 4.5 (work that out!) in a series featuring Reykjavik’s Officer Gunnhilder (generally known as Gunna).  However, the fact that the police – Gunna herself, and her colleague Helgi – come on to the pages of this book very late, about a third of the way in,  certainly influences the general tone of this book.

Quentin Bates (according to the biography on his blog) has lived in Iceland since the 1980s.  He displays excellent knowledge of his location (as you would expect), although the way he throws in references to street names, junctions between streets in Reykjavik, and even the names of Icelandic towns, is hard-going for an English reader.  I know that Keflavik is the name of Reykjavik’s international airport, because I’ve been there, but Quentin has to recognise that Iceland is not well-known to all his readership.  Nor do we have a mental map of Iceland in our heads.  I did enjoy the scene at Reykjavik bus station though.

I admired the way Quentin dealt with most of the dialogue being in translation. It is all in English; only very occasionally did he throw in Icelandic words, and at one point Gunna greets someone she is about to interrogate with ‘Good morning’.

Well, Dear Reader.  I think I’ve just read my first Scandi Crime.  Very different from what I’m used to, but… so far, so good.

Summerchill is available from Little Brown.

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