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Book review: <i>The Boy In The Snow</i> by M J McGrath

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the cover of the book

The Iditarod dogsled race is one of the biggest and toughest races in Alaska. But amongst the distraction, there are some disturbing forces at work in Anchorage. Can one woman singlehandedly uncover the rot that goes deep into the Alaskan political landscape?

The story

Edie Kiglatuk has travelled far from her home town, Autisaq, to Anchorage Alaska. While for many people, Alaska is on the edge of the world, Edie is an Innuit from one of the northern Islands and feels positively claustrophobic in the Alaskan woods. She's in Anchorage as support for her ex, Sammy Inukpuk, who after the death of his son was determined to succeed at the Iitarod dogsled race. Between her and her friend Derek, who's waiting at the finish line in Nome, nothing could possibly go wrong.

When Edie is out in the woods one day, a bear guides her to a gruesome discovery. The body of a tiny baby, completely frozen, left wrapped like a gift and hidden in a tiny wooden house.

Edie cooperates with the police, but soon realises they simply aren't taking the situation as seriously as it should be, and they are looking for culprits on the lunatic fringe when they should be looking closer to home. Edie knows she needs to be there for Sammy, but she is drawn to this crime. She wants to know who this baby belongs to, and more importantly, who put it there.

But Edie is playing a dangerous game. Even with the help of her allies in law enforcement, the powers she is fighting are big time political players, and high up law makers. Can Edie solve the mystery, or will she, and the people she cares about, end up dead?

The style

I'll say it right out: The Boy In The Snow is a beauty. It's mesmerising in a way that made me curious about seeing Alaska (and I hate snow. I saw it like once when I was six. The cold makes me really, really unhappy), because it was so visual and vastly written. The landscape is fantastic, I don't know if the author is from the region, but there's a passion for the north in the writing that makes the book hard to put down irrespective of any other conditions.

But you know what? All the other conditions are excellent too. The book is written from the third person limited, but primarily follows Edie and Anchorage Mayor Chuck Hillingberg, the connection between whom is tenuous to begin with but is revealed slowly and with maximum suspense. Both of these characters as well as the peripheral characters are excellently well rounded and believable, with the cultural differences between the Innuit and the Qualunaat (white people) apparent in the different narrative styles and managed excellently. I did find Edie's penchant for eating bloody fatty whalemeat confronting, but you know, it's all part of the reading experience.

And the plot? Also brilliant. It's twisty, it's turny. It's got unexpected bits and the reveals are slow and shocking and well timed. There's political intrigue and corruption, and one tiny Innuit woman against the system makes for excellent reading. Narrated with Edie's no-nonsense approach to life and language, the words are economical and tell the tale of the vast white space perfectly. Loved this book.

Who is this book for?

I am a bit of a sucker for the 'Nordic Noir' genre. I mean, I like murder mysteries set in an icy European climate. This book is American, while being a cut above your standard American crime pulp. It's the combination of climate with an excellent story line, and a unique main character. So, if like me, you like your crime a bit more thoughtful and tactile than pulp, definitely give The Boy In The Snow a go.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow by Peter Hoeg is the obvious choice. It is also excellent.

In short

Title: The Boy In The Snow
Author: M J McGrath
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0143124146
Year published: 2013
Pages: 400
Genre(s): Crime fiction
Review Type: