By George Ebey
Quentin Bates’ latest thriller, CHILLED TO THE BONE, is the fourth book in his series featuring Iceland-based police sergeant, Gunnhildur Gisladottir.
When a ship-owner is found dead, tied to a bed in one of Reykjavik’s smartest hotels, Sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir of the city police force sees no evidence of foul play but still suspects things are not as cut and dried as they seem. As she investigates the ship-owners untimely – and embarrassing – demise, she stumbles across a discreet bondage society whose members are being systematically exploited and blackmailed.
But how does all this connect to a local gangster recently returned to Iceland after many years abroad, and the unfortunate loss of a government laptop containing sensitive data about various members of the ruling party? What begins as a straightforward case for Gunnhildur soon explodes into a dangerous investigation, uncovering secrets that ruthless men are ready to go to violent extremes to keep.
I recently caught up with Mr. Bates to learn more about the background of Sargent Gisladottir and the world of Iceland-based crime fiction.
Tell us about your main character, Gunnhildur Gisladottir. What is her background and how does it help her to navigate her way through this story?
I made Gunnhildur an unusually baggage-free character. I’ve seen enough fictional detectives struggling booze, coffee, and junk food addictions, and as she’s a single parent – or was at the start of the series – she can’t be entirely irresponsible. She’s around 40, with two almost grown-up children, one from a teenage fling and the other from a marriage. Her husband died in difficult circumstances that I haven’t explained in any detail yet, as I’m saving that up for later. All this makes her a fairly well-grounded character and having the problems of her own children to deal with provides another aspect of the character to contrast against the side of her we see doing police work. Instead of heading for a bar after work, she has her own family’s headaches that need sorting out. I’d like to think it gives her more practical view of the criminals she encounters and the world in general.
Let’s talk setting. What led you to set your series in Iceland and what aspects make it a compelling location for these stories?
I had to use Iceland. I lived there for many years, met my wife there and two of our children were born in Iceland, so it would almost have been a crime not to use all that knowledge of the place and the people. I have been accused once or twice of jumping on the Nordic Crime bandwagon, but in fact that hadn’t started rolling seriously when I started writing this stuff.
Iceland is a fascinating place, not least in the aftermath of the financial crisis that turned everything upside down in 2008 as all three main banks went bust within a couple of weeks of each other. The scenery is naturally impressive, snow, mountains, etc., but it’s the people and the way they think and behave that makes the place so compelling.
It’s also a very small society – the country’s population is smaller than that of a small city in Europe or North America at around 300,000 people. Practically everyone is related to everyone else if you dig back half a dozen generations, degrees of separation between any two individuals are in the order of two, and this gives rise to all kinds of conflicts of interest, nepotism, corruption, etc. In some ways it’s almost like trying to write a locked room mystery set in a very big locked room.
Are there other locations that you would be interested in exploring in future works?
If I had time, then there are certainly other locations I would very much like to explore. I have a Nordic location tucked away for future reference that as far as I know nobody else has used, and which I’m keeping very quiet about for the moment. One day I hope to be able to get to use it. Apart from that, I’d like to set some fiction in England. In fact, I made a start on a book set in England, but had to put it aside to concentrate on Gunnhildur, and the day job.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the next Gunnhildur story that will be published in Britain sometime next year and at the moment, with the deadline getting very close, I’m concentrating on that. There are a few more ideas in the pipeline, and there should also be a Gunnhildur novella out in the second half of 2014.
Apart from that, I’m preparing for Iceland’s crime fiction festival, which takes place at the end of November, which I’m also involved in setting up along with Yrsa Sigurdardóttir and Ragnar Jónasson. That’s going to be exciting and interesting, and a little nerve-wracking. It’s odd for such a literary country. Although Iceland has regular literary festivals, these tend to be highbrow affairs and this is the first time Iceland has seen its own crime fiction festival.
THE TIMES calls CHILLED TO THE BONE, “Superior crime fiction set in Iceland… this is a well-constructed, well written and satisfying police procedural’. Other titles in the Gunnhildur series include FROZEN OUT, COLD COMFORTS, and WINTERLUDE.
To learn more about Quentin, please visit his website.