Edie Kiglatuk is a guide, hunter and school teacher who lives in the small settlement of Autisaq at the southern tip of Ellesmere Island, high above the Arctic Circle. Disaster strikes when she takes two white folk out on a hunting expedition to Craig Island; one of them is shot and dies. The incident is hushed up and classed as an accident by the tribal elders not wanting to hurt the small tourist trade. A short time later her former husband and step-son take out a second party who are seeking the remains of the legendary explorer, Sir James Fairfax. Her step-son returns half-delirious and his charge has disappeared swallowed up by an icy blizzard. The next morning he is found dead having seemingly taken his own life. The tribal elders are keen to record the missing man as an accidental death and the son as suicide. Edie is unwilling to accept the verdict and starts to investigative his demise and the disappearance of the supposed heritage hunter. Nobody, however, seems keen on her poking around for answers.
As debut crime novels goes, White Heat couldn’t be much better. It has everything a good crime novel should have: strong plot, excellent characterization, vivid sense of place, a dollop full of history, culture and social politics, and a swirl of conspiracy. The book doesn’t simply describe the world of Edie Kiglatuk - the small, tight knit community and the icy, harsh landscape - but places the reader into it. Edie is a wonderful creation - a headstrong woman who rails against custom and tradition at the same time as she tries to maintain them in the face of encroachment by the ‘white world’. The other characters, with their various traits and foibles, are also well penned. The plot is engaging and unfolds at a nice pace and manages to remain coherent to the end without falling apart or being overly reliant on coincidence. Where the book really shone was in the portrayal of the Inuit life and the rendering of the icy, harsh but beautiful landscape. Not only was I thoroughly entertained but I learned a fair bit about the realities and social politics of Arctic living. I’ve already recommended the book to friends and I’m hoping that there are more Edie stories in the pipeline.