Adam Woog’s crime-fiction column features mysteries set in cold places — from Rosamund Lupton’s Alaska to Ysra Sigurdardottir’s Iceland to Chris Ould’s Faeroe Islands.
Even very cold places can be hotbeds of crime fiction — witness the explosion of Nordic writers inspired by “The Girl Who …” phenomenon. Here are a few recent books from the Far North:
In Rosamund Lupton’s remarkable “The Quality of Silence” (Crown, 304 pp., $26), the silence of Alaska’s far reaches is very real for Ruby; she’s completely deaf. This precocious 10-year-old narrates much of the book, as she and her mother trade their comfortable lives in England for a headlong journey above the Arctic Circle, where it gets so cold your eyelids can instantly freeze shut.
They’re searching for their missing and presumed-dead husband and father, a wildlife filmmaker. They hitch rides in planes and trucks and, when one driver falls ill, Ruby’s resilient Mum teaches herself how to drive his rig. It’s not just the environment, with its storms, treacherous roads and deadly temperatures that could do them in; a menacing trucker is following them too.
Readers will need a boatload of suspended disbelief here. (For one thing, would a mother, no matter how desperate, really put her child in such mind-bendingly obvious danger?) Nonetheless, Lupton’s proven gift for making unlikely scenarios believable, and her sensitive depiction of family bonds, make “The Quality of Silence” a compelling and beautifully written journey into the darkest of hearts.
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Stan Jones’“Tundra Kill” (Bowhead, 305 pp., $25.99) also takes place in the far reaches of Alaska, albeit a more prosaic version. Nathan Active, the top cop in a vast swath of wilderness, has a new puzzle to solve: the murder, by snowmobile, of a dog musher.
Things get complicated for Active when he’s tapped to be a bodyguard for the state’s governor — a flirtatious, beautiful, brash and ambitious publicity hog with a whacked-out family. (Hands up if you see a resemblance to a certain real-life Alaskan politician.) Active is a sturdy, reliable figure, and Jones has a palpable affection for the Alaskan Native culture and his eccentric characters.
The latest from Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir, “The Silence of the Sea” (Minotaur, 336 pp., $25.99), opens with a startling event: a luxury yacht crashes its way into Reykjavik harbor … with no one on board. What happened to the crew and the young family who were passengers during the vessel’s journey from Lisbon? Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir, initially called in to examine the young family’s life insurance policies, needs to know.
Alternating between Thora’s investigation and flashbacks to the sea voyage, Sigurdardottir has created a clever, seaborne locked-room puzzle with a touch of the supernatural. She also deftly evokes the lovely but treacherous land- and seascapes of the North Atlantic.
An even more remote region — the Faeroe Islands, midway between Norway and Iceland — is the stark setting for Chris Ould’s“The Blood Strand” (Titan, 448 pp., $14.95 paperback original).
Jan Reyna left the Faroes as a boy when his parents broke up. Raised in England by his mother, Reyna became a police detective. Now he’s drawn back to the islands, after the father he barely knows is found unconscious in a car — along with a recently fired shotgun, spilled blood that isn’t his and lots of cash.
Reyna is, to say the least, an outsider. He doesn’t speak Faroese and doesn’t understand local customs. The insular natives are suspicious of his motives, especially his father’s second family. Even with the help of a sympathetic local detective, Reyna has a tough job unraveling the mystery surrounding his well-off, politically-connected father.
Like the other books here, “The Blood Strand” is both a robust story and a nuanced look at an unusual, fascinating and really cold culture.