Source: Review copy
Publication: 11th October 2018 from Constable
Gunnhildur reluctantly allows herself to be taken off police duties to act as bodyguard to a man with a price on his head . . .
Hidden away in a secure house outside Reykjavík, Gunna and the high-profile stranger, a guest of the interiors minister, are thrown together – too close for comfort. They soon find they are neither as safe nor as carefully hidden as Gunna and her boss had thought. Conflicting glimpses of the man’s past start to emerge as the press begin to sniff him out, as does another group with their own reasons for locating him. Gunna struggles to come to terms with protecting the life of a man who may have the lives of many on his conscience – or indeed may be the philanthropist he claims to be.
Isolated together, the friction grows between Gunna and the foreign visitor, and she realises they are out of their depth as the trails lead from the house outside Reykjavík to Brussels, Russia and the Middle East.
Officer Gunnhildur Gísladóttor is taken right out of her comfort zone in the latest novel by her creator, Quentin Bates. An officer in the Reykjavik Serious Crime Unit, Gunna is taken aside by her boss and asked to take on some hush hush security work. In a novel packed full of politics, the refugee crisis, arms sales and dodgy charitable doings, Gunna finds herself packing a Glock under her arm and babysitting a somewhat dodgy character who is visiting Iceland as a guest of the Government Minister for the Interior.
At least, some people think he’s dodgy and certainly Gunna reckons he is morally if not criminally, suspect. A trio of journalists across Europe are trying to track down the rumours that connect this head of a philanthropic organisation and self-styled human rights activist to a right wing group and to arms sales.
Now he and Gunna are living cheek by jowl in a remote bungalow and the more Gunna sees of this man, the less she likes him. Gunna’s not the only one with suspicions about the visitor. Someone is out to kill him and assassins are already on his trail.
In a multi-layered plot full of political intrigue, Bates weaves a tight story arc piecing together information from the journalists, international police operatives and others until it is clear that nothing is as straightforward as it seems, except that the political waters have never been muddier and more than one individual will die before the first night is out.
Cold Breath works well as a stand-alone and as you’d expect, the Icelandic backdrop is a thing of beauty in its own right. I loved Gunna’s trip to the island and the fabulous descriptions of the shops, baking and rural fishing life that it conveys, in contrast to the smooth efficiency of the Government machine in Reykjavík. The cold seeps through the reader’s bones, especially out in the water, and the remote setting for the bungalow adds to the sense of isolation that Gunna feels.
Gunna is a great protagonist. Cautious, always thinking of her family and looking out for her colleagues, she is ready to put herself in danger to save a man she doesn’t particularly like and whose motives she distrusts. As she grows to know more about him, her impressions will shift a little, but nothing will keep her from doing her job as well as she can, even when it’s clear there are precious few people she can trust.
Told in the third person and from a number of perspectives, Cold Breath is a chilling, well told thriller with more than a thread of contemporary politics to keep the reader engrossed. Another fabulous addition to the Icelandic Noir canon.
Verdict: A chilling, well told thriller with more than a thread of contemporary politics to keep the reader engrossed.
About Quentin Bates
Quentin Bates dates back to the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis and was brought up in the south of England. In the year that Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s Prime Minister, he was offered the opportunity to spend a gap year working in Iceland and jumped at the chance of escape.
The gap year turned into a gap decade, during which he worked as a netmaker, factory hand and trawlerman, started a family and generally went native.
In England, he worked as a truck driver, teacher, fisherman and as a freelance journalist writing about nautical stuff, while gradually spending less time at sea. He has always been a big reader, and gradually writing started to take over.
Seagoing was followed by years as a journalist for obscure nautical trade magazines, a dream job for anyone who gets a kick out of visiting industrial estates and obscure harbours miles from anywhere. From there it was a series of sidesteps into fiction. Gunnhildur and the book that became Frozen Out grew out of a university writing course that enabled him to take an afternoon off work once a week.
As well as writing his own fiction, Quentin has become a busy translator, having translated Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series of five novels and Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Reykjavik Noir trilogy into English for Orenda Books. Other translations include Bowline by Guðlaugur Arason, The Edge of the World by Sigurjón Magnússon and Cab 79 by Indriði G. Thorsteinsson.
Follow Quentin on Twitter @graskeggur
Visit Quentin Bates’ website