I love reading all kinds of books – both fiction and non-fiction. I think that’s one of my problems: I like too many fiction genres, and I’m interested in too many topics! It makes for an overwhelming amount of titles that catch my interest.
But anyway, lately I’ve been on a mystery kick. Most mysteries seem to be set in the U.S. or the U.K. so when I came across the book White Heat by M.J. McGrath, and saw that it was set in the far north – as in Canadian Arctic far north – I was intrigued.
McGrath introduces us to Edie Kiglatuk, a half-Inuit, half-white woman who teaches school, but supplements her income by guiding hunters from “down south” on hunting expeditions. She compares these white hunters to “taking a couple of toddlers out on the land.” But it’s good money, and she loves the old ways of her people.
The book opens with a particular hunting trip with two men, Felix Wagner and Andy Taylor; men who profess to be interested in hunting, but don’t seem to act that way. Things get even stranger when Felix is mysteriously shot and killed while on Edie’s watch.
The Council of Elders declares that Felix was killed by his own bullet ricocheting off a rock. Case closed. Edie knows this isn’t true, but keeps quiet, and hopes to instead convince local policeman Derek Palliser that something fishy is going on. When the second tourist Andy Taylor comes back with another buddy, and then disappears, she knows something is seriously wrong.
The mystery in this novel unfolds at a fairly slow pace, and I found myself thinking that some concise editing might have been in order. But I loved the glimpse into Inuit culture and language – although the glimpse into Inuit cuisine left me slightly queasy.
The land is almost a character in and of itself. McGrath shows us the beauty and the danger of the Arctic in its various seasons.
I liked the characters, too. Edie, a former alcoholic and an all-around tough cookie; her stepson Joe, a likeable young man who has ambitions to become a nurse; Aunt Martie, a hard-drinking bush pilot; Derek Palliser, a good cop who has dreams of getting his studies of lemmings published in a scientific journal; and Sammy, Edie’s ex-husband who remains a friend but not the best influence on Edie and her struggles to maintain her sobriety.
The writing is good, detailed and yet clear. If you allow the story to unfold at its own pace, you will find yourself immersed in a foreign culture within an equally foreign landscape. The clues may seem confusing, but they all come together at the end in a satisfying resolution. I’m looking forward to the second book featuring Edie and Derek, The Boy in the Snow.