I’m delighted to welcome crime author Quentin Bates to the blog. His latest novel, Cold Malice, has just been published — and features one of my all-time favourite investigators, Icelandic police officer Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladóttir.
Below, there’s a little about the novel, together with an exclusive extract… I’ve also included part of an interview I did with Quentin a while back, in which he answers questions about writing the character of Gunna and the kind of Iceland he tries to depict.
Cold Malice: Reykjavík detective Gunnhildur Gísladóttir tries not to believe in ghosts. But when Helgi, one of her team, is certain he’s seen a man who was declared dead fifteen years ago, she reluctantly gives him some unofficial leeway to look into it.
Has the not-so-dead man returned from the grave to settle old scores, or has he just decided to take a last look around his old haunts? Even the rumour of his being alive and kicking is enough to spark a storm of fury and revenge, with Gunnhildur and Helgi caught up in the middle of it.
>> The sea and the dawn sky melded into an enfolding grey blanket as the boat shoved its way through the chop of the waves. The skipper sat in the wheelhouse chair and gnawed his fingernails, eyes on the screens in front of him. It wasn’t likely, but considering the nature of the bundle nestling under the gunwale where it couldn’t be easily seen, a chance visit right now from the Coast Guard or those busybodies from the fisheries patrol would at best be hard to explain and at worst disastrous. He had no business being here, far outside his usual fishing grounds, and that in itself was suspicious. In fact, he was away from anyone’s fishing grounds, in a patch of the Baltic where the mustard gas and explosives dumped after a couple of wars had ensured that any kind of fishing was out of the question.
He brooded that if he hadn’t had debts, he’d have told them to go and fuck themselves sideways.
Eventually he eased back the throttle and the engine’s rumble died away to a throaty mutter beneath his feet, the boat rocking in the unpredictable Baltic swell. He unzipped the bag, tried not to look at the emaciated face that gazed back at him, its eyes half closed, and hurriedly dropped a couple of yards of chain inside, adding some worn shackles for good measure. He zipped the bag shut and punched holes in it, surprised at how its tough fabric resisted his knife. It was also a surprise how little the bag and its contents weighed as he rolled it over the gunwale and watched it disappear from sight to join the rusting shells and canisters of poison far below.
He shuddered to himself, put the boat back into gear, and felt a surge of relief as he pushed the throttle lever forward as far as it would go. That was a debt paid, one of many, but he wondered how long it would be before another favour he could hardly refuse would be requested. <<
Mrs P: Quentin, you’re in the unusual position as a British author of having lived in Iceland for many years. How has that experience – together with your ongoing links to the country – shaped your crime writing?
Quentin: I shied away from the idea of using Iceland as a backdrop when I started toying with the idea of fiction. There were a few false starts, until it dawned on me that it would be plain daft not to use all that knowledge, insight and experience, so that’s when Frozen Out [the first in the ‘Gunna’ series] started to take shape. Being familiar with the language gives you a huge advantage in being able to understand the intricacies of Iceland’s internecine politics and much of the subtext to what goes on that an outsider simply wouldn’t be aware of, as well as being able to laugh at all the otherwise incomprehensible jokes.
Mrs P: Which particular aspects of Icelandic society have you been keen to share via your crime writing?
Quentin: Let’s say I prefer to avoid the clichés, the stuff the tourists see. Very little of my work seems to be set in Reykjavík 101, the central district where all the hotels, bars and whatnot are, which is hipster central these days, lots of manbuns and frothy coffee. I’m happier with the outlying parts of the city and the surrounding towns that are so different to what many visitors see. What I really like to try and work in there is the quiet, subtle humour of the older generation of Icelanders that has its roots in a time when Iceland was a very different place. It’s a humour so bone-dry that it’s easy to miss it, and it can fly right over your head if you’re not watching out for it.
Mrs P: Icelandic police series by authors such as Arnaldur Indriðason and Ragnar Jónasson feature male detectives. What made you decide to create a female police officer?
Quentin: I didn’t set out to create a female investigator. She just appeared. Originally Gunnhildur was the sidekick to a fairly dull male main character who just didn’t click. He was so forgettable that I can’t even remember what name I gave that ill-thought out character back in that very first draft of Frozen Out. He was quite quickly jettisoned once it had occurred to me that the sidekick was the more interesting character, and she did demand attention. To my surprise, I didn’t find it especially difficult to write a female character. People seem to like her and say she’s realistic, but I think I’m too close to her to be able to judge.
Mrs P: Tell us a little about the way you depict Officer Gunnhildur in the series.
Quentin: Gunnhildur is a character who is definitely not from Reykjavík, and she was deliberately given roots in a coastal region in the west so she can have something of an outsider’s point of view. That’s why she and Helgi connect so well, as he’s also from a rural background in the north and they share a similar background as immigrants to Reykjavík, while Eiríkur is a city boy with little in common with his two middle-aged (or ancient, as he would see them) colleagues.
With thanks to Quentin Bates! There’s also a great review of Cold Malice over at Raven Crime Reads