Review: Cold Comfort by Quentin Bates

Nick-named ‘Graskeggur’ by his Icelandic grandmother, as the letter ‘Q’ doesn’t exist in Icelandic, Quentin Bates is a writer for an obscure nautical magazine. Thankfully, he is a talented fiction writer, and not just adept to explaining port from starboard.

Cold Comfort is his second work of fiction, and once more features Sergeant Gunnhildur as she investigates crimes, this time in modern day Reykjavík. Gunnhildur also has a team, I should add, but the book is hung around her as the central character. Gunnhildur is investigating the murder of a fitness guru / slightly shady local celebrity Svana Geirs, whilst at the same time chasing an escaped convict. There are some other goings on, but I’m not about to reveal them, nor any more of the plot either.

Gunnhildur is a more than plausible character, with a back-story and intimate details (for example, some suggestive texts on her mobile phone) to back this up. Her world, too, feels realistic and is a well-portrayed slice of Reykjavik life, complete with post-financial crisis nuances, such as her unit being short-staffed and her on-going battle to get to her rightful pay grade. Further nods to Reykjavik life lie within the importance of iPhones and Blackberrys, the near constant drinking of coffee and in case you should forget, the ubiquitous ‘Hæ’ at the start of each conversation.

Is this just another piece of Nordic Noir Crime writing? No, I don’t think so. I think Bates has sidestepped that genre, the world of Jo Nesbø and Arnaldur Indriðason. Instead he chooses a more traditional set of rules and plot lines, and serves it with a portion of dark humour. The combination is one which feels like right. It doesn’t feel as bombastic or drawn out as the aforementioned crime writers; it has a more gentle, real life feel to it. I suspect hard research with the Icelandic Police and years of living in the country has paid off in this respect.

The dark humour runs through the entire story; a character receives a reminder through the post to service a jeep his financial hardship has just forced him to sell, and Gunnhildur herself has echoes of the Coen brothers’ Marge Gunderson in Fargo. ‘Are you sure he didn’t fall on something and then drive himself to hospital afterwards?’ she asks at one point ‘What? With a hosepipe gaffer- taped to the exhaust?’ comes the reply.

Like I say, I’m not about to blow out the plot here. That’s not for me to say. What is for me to say is that this is a bloody good read, especially if you have a thing for the northern most capital city in the world, and fancy a bit of dark humour with your crime investigations. Good work, Graskeggur.

More details here.