If you are looking for something a little bit different in your crime novels then you couldn’t go wrong with ‘White Heat’ by M.J. McGrath. I admit that I don’t think I would have heard of this novel or its author unless it had been recommended by Val McDermid, who also kindly invited M.J. McGrath as her guest for tonight’s Bookmarked. But then again I am not yet a crime buff, even if I am working on it. What is it then that makes Melanie McGrath’s, for that is her full name, crime fiction so different?
Crime novels should be chilling shouldn’t they? Well ‘White Heat’ is chilling in more ways than just the murder, or murders, at the heart of it. The setting is the snowy and ice laden landscapes of the Canadian Artic and in every scene there is a sense of the coldness and almost other worldliness of which the characters of this novel inhabit. Our protagonist is hunting guide (which I have to say almost put me off her) and part time teacher Edie Kiglatuk, she might not be a detective but she’s inquisitive an observant, and you might say has a little too much time on her hands.
The book starts on one of Edie’s trips which suddenly goes horribly wrong when one of the men, Feliz Wagner, on the outing gets shot and, being stuck in the middle of the snowy barren land during a slight storm, dies before he can get to hospital despite all the efforts of Edie and her step-son Joe. You would think that a police enquiry would follow, but this is not the case in a place like Autisaq where the elders (seemingly lead by Edie’s ex-brother in law) decide what’s the outcome is and they don’t want trouble or the hunting tourism affected and so the death is labeled accidental. However Edie isn’t happy, in part through guilt as she doesn’t say much at the hearing, with the verdict and so decides more needs to be done and contacts Derek Palliser, a police man from nearby, who she once worked with unofficially before.
“His case illustrated precisely why the elders preffered not to involve police unless they had to. Almost everyone in Autisaq, including Johnnies own parents, thought it would have been more humane to deal with him the Innuit way; take him up to the mountains and, when he was least expecting it, push him off a cliff. No one said this to the then Constable Palliser, of course, but he’d picked it up anyway. His insistence on bringing the case to trial had made him enemies.”
It’s this conflict of modern vs. the old way which adds to the books point of difference (sorry rather a business like word there) alongside the setting of the book and the inclusion of Inuit lifestyles and sets it apart from a lot of the crime fiction I have been reading. It comes as no surprise to know that Melanie McGrath has written several non-fiction books (including ‘The Long Exile’ which I now really want to read) which have focused on the Inuit lifestyle, and her passion/interest in this shines through as you read on. It added a certain something to the proceedings as the novel went on, and I found myself chilled in more ways than one.
Edie is also a great character. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that she hunted, but then she is doing the job so her step-son can do and study nursing – her ex husband isn’t supportive particularly even though he invites himself round at the drop of a hat. I admit when I read that Edie was an ex-drinker I did think ‘oh dear this could be another detective with a drink issue cliché’ but actually it’s more a background to the character and the situation than anything else. Edie has a certain drive too which you just can’t help respecting and liking.
I am certainly glad I was pointed in the direction of ‘White Heat’ and am thrilled to learn that this is the first in what is going to be a series of Edie’s unofficial investigations, she’s a character to watch from an author I hope we will be hearing a lot more about. If you want a crime with a bit of a twist then give this a whirl, I really enjoyed it… if you can enjoy a good crime.
M.J. McGrath will be at tonight’s ‘Bookmarked’ with Val McDermid at Manchester’s Waterstones Deansgate with me hosting, you can find more information here, it would be a crime to miss it.