Europe is in the grip of an extreme Arctic blast and at the mercy of a killer, who leaves no trace. His weapons of choice are razor-sharp icicles. This is Jack Frost.
Now a fully qualified criminologist, Georgina McKenzie is called upon by the Dutch police to profile this cunning and brutal murderer. Are they looking for a hit man or a frenzied serial-killer? Could there be a link to a cold missing persons’ case that George had worked with Chief Inspector Paul van den Bergen – two abducted toddlers he could never quite give up on?
How can you not get excited about a book which begins with "Black hearts so easily hidden beneath bespoke Jermyn Street clothing. Lies. Corruption. Evil. A day of reckoning was nigh"? This novel throws you straight into the action with writing that immediately conjures up a scene of tension and an atmosphere of anticipation. I was gripped. The description of the men who "had the entire week diarised satisfactorily by their P.A.s" so there were "no unwelcome surprises for these masters of the universe" ironically made me feel less sympathy for them -almost siding with the anonymous voice of someone we can only guess is about to commit a terrible crime. I loved the sentence "An unwitting child stumbled though the wardrobe...into a hard, white world, waiting to be lured into the shadows by a ragged, destitute Tummus." It implies so much; such impressive imagery.
After wasting no time in introducing us to "Jack Frost" and his murder with a ten inch icicle, we then move to a women's prison where George McKenzie, criminologist, is interviewing inmates for her research project. Again, Riches skilfully creates very visual characters with phrases and short sentences, focussing on details that paint authentic pictures and subtly convey personality: "a gingivitis grin.....thin hair scraped back....look like a ruined child." It seems effortless and yet so controlled and clever at the same time. It was almost poetic in places with lines like "Bedbugs. Beatings. Braless and behind bars. Blotted life." I found it impressive that, throughout the whole novel, Riches is able to use such basic adjectives and sentence structures to invent strong characters and unpleasant situations in a very eloquent manner. I really admire the way she uses a collection of simple, single words to reinforce the realistic and gritty tone of the book.
George is a great character. Clearly affected by her work, she is sensitive and stressed. She is emotionally vulnerable and shows some fragility and there are suggestions of a troubled past. I think this gives her more depth and intrigue.
The novel is well paced with several threads of storyline established early on. There are clues and the characters and plots are linked. There are constant hints of intrigue but the reader is never given enough time to join up the dots as more and more information presented. The switches in time and locations of Amsterdam and London, where similar crimes are evading both police forces, keeps adding layer upon layer to a complex murder investigation.
My favourite chapter was the introduction of Piet and Gabi Deenen from a past unsolved crime where their children were abducted. I loved to hate Gabi! She was so obnoxious and so palpable and I loved the way this storyline unveiled itself through flashbacks, slowly bringing itself up to present day. The description of Piet as he looked after his children was so authentic and captured the way parents watch children while trying to multitask with the endless mundane tasks- spilling coffee, unable to finish a sentence on the phone, eyes constantly flickering from children to task while also trying to defend or argue or listen. Piet's thoughts and actions were so well captured and I read this scene as if watching it live in front of me.
And Gabi's feeling of being like "Alice, trapped on the wrong side of the looking glass, falling down the rabbit hole where her children may or may not lie broken at the bottom" demanded some empathy for a woman who loved her children but thwarted and judged by her ambition. Her suffering doubled by the fact that the press don't like a "ball breaker" and each of her decisions criticised when she is simply desperate to find her missing toddlers.
The second part of the book is really exciting. There is a twist and the tempo increases. Its action packed, clever and a real page turner. I read it quickly but actually this really helped me keep up with the characters, events and locations.
The novel is bleak. This is a thriller about murder, child trafficking, pedophillia. It is a sophisticated novel. There are lots of pieces of the jigsaw to concentrate on and the narrative moves backwards and forwards between the last twelve months, switching location between Denmark, Berlin, Amsterdam and Cambridge for starters. It is literally chilling. The freezing arctic temperatures and snowy weather are ever present and permeate every part of the story. Metaphors like "she felt like he had thrown a snowball squarely in her face" help reinforce the physical and emotional coldness of the book.
The blurb and reviewer compare Riches to Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson. I very much admire these writers but I think I prefer Riches work - for me, I felt more of a connection with it and maybe I was able to relate to the character of George more than some of those in other Nordic books. I liked her a lot. She is flawed and fallible but I admired her. She is honest, genuine and a positive representation of a female character.
The only small criticism I would have is that I don't think the cover really does it justice. To me it suggests a less sophisticated read. Although this is hugely accessible book that should definitely adorn the best selling stands and will be a very mainstream, popular read, it shouldn't sell itself short!
I thought this was an ambitious novel; it covers a lot of difficult issues but it feels slick, fluid and well crafted. I have not read the first two books in this series but it did not affect my enjoyment or understanding - I will be tracking down these pervious titles! I would recommend "The Girl who Walked in Shadows."
Thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy in return for a fair and honest review.
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