When Arctic guide Edie Kiglatuk stumbles across a body abandoned in the Alaskan forest, she little imagines what her discovery will lead her to. With the local police convinced the death is linked to the Dark Believers, a sinister Russian sect, Edie’s friends insist she leave the investigation to the proper authorities. But remaining in the area as part of the support team for her ex-husband Sammy’s bid to win the famous Iditarod dog sled race, Edie cannot get the image of the frozen corpse out of her mind. While Sammy travels across some of world’s toughest and most deadly terrain, Edie sets off on an investigation which will take her into a dark world of politics, corruption and greed – as a painful secret in her past finally catches up with her . . .
Not to be deterred by my slight disappointment at McGrath’s debut ‘White Heat’ I approached this, the next in the series, with an open mind and found it a much more satisfying read overall. Familiar characters from the first book return in an altogether different setting with the action of the main plot being relocated to Alaska. Edie Kiglatuk (a native of the Inuit community on Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic) accompanies her ex-husband Sammy and police chief Derek Palliser to Alaska where Sammy is competing in the gruelling ‘Iditarod’- a world famous dog-sled race covering 1100 miles of the harshest terrain. However, Edie’s role in Sammy’s quest for glory is curtailed by her discovering the body of a baby in a snowy woodland and draws her into the path of not only an ostracised religious sect but a sinister sex trade involving young immigrant women. Running alongside this plot there is a well-constructed political story line revolving around the perfectly awful husband and wife team of Chuck and Marsha Hillingberg, as Chuck vies with an existing incumbent for the post of Governor of Alaska; a pair of the most power-hungry and scheming individuals it would ever be your misfortune to meet who inevitably cross paths with the indomitable Edie as she finds herself deeper in peril…
As with ‘White Heat’ McGrath’s research is to be applauded from the level of detail she applies to both the Iditarod race and the charting of the political processes in place for the electing of a State Governor. The depiction of the ‘Old Believers’, a religious group who broke away from the Russian Orthodox church having refused to accept the liturgical reforms imposed upon them by the main church, was also an interesting thread and this, along with the Iditarod, drove me to Google to find out more. It’s always pleasing to read a book that introduces you to a previously unknown world as long as it supports the main plot/mystery and McGrath largely achieves this.
One of my problems with the previous book was the flimsy characterisation- with the exception of the compelling Edie- and I’m glad to say that I felt infinitely more engaged with the characters in ‘The Boy In The Snow’ than I had previously. Police chief Derek Palliser seems to have shut up about his lemmings which is a bonus and I felt that by leaving his furry friends behind, McGrath’s characterisation of him improved greatly, and I was much more interested in him and his maturing relationship with Edie than before. There was a great deal more attention to detail generally in the characterisation throughout, from the main protagonists through to the ‘bit-part’ players, and I felt they had all been really fleshed-out however big their role in the plot and were altogether more believable. I’m glad that McGrath has achieved this balance as her factual detail is so compelling that the strength of this had really highlighted the weaker characterisation before.
All in all I found this an engaging read, bringing to my attention topics I had no previous knowledge of, but also providing a compelling and well- realised crime plot that held my attention throughout.
Visit the author’s website here: http://www.melaniemcgrath.com/
(With thanks to Macmillan for the advance reading copy)