It’s maybe not the right time to be slacking off. Every time I look at the news there’s some new horror. Even our generally cheery weatherman is shaking his head: This weekend will be a scorcher, and half the western states appear to be ablaze again. Though I feel like that dog in the “this is fine” meme – the one where everything is on fire and a pup is having a cold one, blissfully ignoring it – I’m going to spend this blog post recommending some chilly escapist reading. Sometimes we just need a break so we can get back to putting out the fires.
Anne Holt, 1222. A misanthropic wheelchair-bound ex-detective is taking the train from Oslo to Bergen when it derails at the top of a mountain, luckily near Finse 1222, a hotel that for a hundred years has weathered storms and welcomed guests who enjoy summer mountain cycling and winter sports. As staff from the hotel rescue the passengers, a blizzard begins to blow, and soon they are trapped, cut off from the world. And of course, there’s a murder or two. Good cold fun that crosses an Agatha Christie-style manor house mystery with a touch of political conspiracy and an exploration of what it means to be Norwegian. (Full review.)
M. J. McGrath The Bone Seeker. Set in a part of the Canadian Arctic so cold and remote that even Inuit didn’t live there until the Canadian government relocated them there to discourage any foreign powers getting ideas (a social experiment gone wrong described in the author’s non-fiction book, The Long Exile), this it the third is a fine series featuring a mixed-race woman who has worked as a guide and a teacher but tends to sideline as a detective. In this story one of her students disappears and is later found dead in a lake the locals consider an evil place. It could be a family tragedy, or it could be something different. If this one’s not cold enough, try her first in the series, White Heat. They’re all chilling in a good way. (Full review.)
Olivier Truc Forty Days Without Shadow. Written by a Frenchman, this novel set it the far north of Norway has a wonderful sense of place as two police officers – reindeer police! – are sent to sort out the ownership of two herds that have become mixed together with malice aforethought. Soon they’re investigating the stabbing death of an elderly Sami man and the theft of a priceless relic from a museum. I didn’t apparently write a review of this one, but the landscape and the moody language stays with me.
Asa Larsson Until Thy Wrath Be Past. Set in the far north of Sweden, this is part of a series set outside Kiruna, a town established in the 19th century near a mine that is still so vast the entire city has had to be moved due to subsidence. Asa Larsson writes about her home with great fondness. Though this is not the first in the series, it’s the one I thought was best. A girl, long missing, has been found in a stream, but prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson decides to have the water in her lungs tested. It turns out she drowned, all right, but somewhere else – in an icebound lake where (the reader knows) she and her boyfriend were diving to find a wrecked plane that someone else didn’t want found. Larsson’s plots are less mysterious than driven by character and landscape. The best part is the snow. (Full review.)
Rosamund Lupton The Quality of Silence. Lupton has a knack for writing convincingly about completely implausible situations. In this novel, an English astrophysicist who has had a falling out with her husband takes their eleven-year-old daughter Ruby to Fairbanks, where she plans to have it out with her documentary filmmaker husband. When he fails to pick them up at the airport, the police break the news to her that the village he has been staying in has been destroyed in a catastrophe. They aren't quite sure what caused it, but a huge fire enveloped the community and there are no survivors. The bodies are too burnt to identify, but they are sure her husband is among them. She refuses to believe that he's dead and decides to go look for him with her deaf daughter Ruby, who really owns this story. Think Ice Truckers with a PhD. (Full review.)
Do you have any recommendations for escaping the heat - or getting a spont of murderous relief from the continuing awfulness of the news these days?