Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review of The Boy in the Snow by MJ McGrath (Pan, 2012)

Edie Kiglatuk, a native of Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic, is visiting Alaska to help support her ex-husband, Sammy, who is taking part in Alaska’s world-famous Iditarod dog-sled race.  Not long after the race starts, Edie discovers the frozen body of an infant, laid to rest in a spirit house on land belonging to the Old Believers, an exiled Russian Orthodox sect.  The Mayor of Anchorage, and candidate for governor of Alaska, wants the case dealt with quickly and the police soon arrest a member of the sect for murder.  Edie, however, is unconvinced of his guilt and starts her own investigation along with Derek Palliser, an Ellesmere Island police sergeant who is the other member of Sammy’s team, that leads into a sordid and sinister web of sex trafficking, property development, political corruption, and religious persecution.  Her snooping soon raises hackles placing her in danger, but also threatens Sammy’s chances of finishing the race alive.  Edie, however, is stubborn, resilient, and determined to achieve justice for the dead infant.

The first Edie Kiglatuk story, White Heat, was one of my reads of 2012 so I was looking forward to reading The Boy in the Snow.  However, the tale did not live up to expectation.  While the premise is an interesting one, focusing on political ambition and corruption, sex trafficking, and property development, the plot was too full of holes and there was a constant stream of plot devices (unlikely coincidences and connections, police incompetence, stupid actions, blind luck) to be convincing.  What saves the book is the character of Edie Kiglatuk, who I think is a marvellous creation, the sense of place and lifestyle, general atmosphere, and the pace and suspense.  The latter meant the narrative rattles along at a fair clip with a series of tension points and intrigue that kind of steam-rolls over the poor plotting.  This produced a tale that was engaging and frustrating in equal measure.  Where the book really took a nose spin, however, was the denouement, which was weak and unconvincing.  Overall, an interesting read as long as one overlooks the weaknesses in the plotting.  Nonetheless I plan on reading the next Edie Kiglatuk tale as I like the character and the settings.


Anonymous said...

I like Edie's character very much too, Rob. And I think the setting/context for this series is very well done.

col2910 said...

I have the earlier ones on the pile and this one on the wish-list. Maybe I'll take a pass.

Rob Kitchin said...

I think the first one is definitely worth a read. One of my reads of 2012. This one is a weaker affair.