Sunday, 7 October 2012

Book Review: The Boy in the Snow by M.J. McGrath

The Boy in the Snow
by M.J. McGrath
Penguin Group USA
4 Stars


M. J. McGrath’s debut novel, White Heat, earned both fans and favorable comparisons to bestselling Scandinavian thrillers such as Smilla’s Sense of Snow and the Kurt Wallander series.

In The Boy in the Snow, half-Inuit Edie Kiglatuk finds herself in Alaska with Sergeant Derek Palliser, helping her ex-husband Sammy in his bid to win the famous Iditarod dog sled race. The race takes a grim turn when Edie stumbles upon the body of a baby left out in the forest. The state troopers are keen to pin the death on the Dark Believers—a sinister offshoot of a Russian Orthodox sect—but Edie’s instincts tell her otherwise. Her investigations take her into a world of corrupt politics, religious intolerance, greed, and sex trafficking. But just as she begins to get some answers, Edie finds herself confronted by a painful secret from her past.


I wouldn't call this a fast-paced book. It is a mystery, yes, but it's also quite character driven and feels a lot like literature rather than a genre novel. Edie Kiglatuk is in Alaska to help out her ex, Sammy who wants to run the Iditarod dog sled race, a race commemorating a mercy dash in the 1920's to get much needed diptheria vaccines to the town of Nome and so prevent an epidemic. I'd never heard of it before, and I learned a lot of things in this book that I never knew, but it never became a text book. All the facts flow well within the story. The slow pace fits this novel and as such, you delight in each word and each scene as they happen. This is not a book to be rushed, it's a book to be savoured like a wonderful dessert.

Edie discovers a dead baby boy in the snow and is haunted by it, especially since the local police don't seem to want to know what happened, instead they've arrested a man called Galloway, one of the Old Believers, a sect that broke of from the Russian Orthodox Church, and are convinced they've got their man already. Edie isn't so sure, especially when Galloway's young wife seeks her out.

I've never been to Alaska, but Miss McGrath has such a sense of place in her novel that you feel you are actually there. You can sense the cold, but more than that, you can sense the isolation of such a desolate landscape. The characters are well-drawn, from Edie herself down to the corrupt mayor and his power hungry wife, along with the Old Believers. No one is a caricature and all have their part to play.

Since this is another book about Edie Kiglatuk, I was worried that I may not understand references to things that happened in the first book, but my worries were unfounded. There were some references to previous things, but nothing that would take away your enjoyment or understanding of reading this book.

A great read.

Reviewed by Annette Gisby

Review copy from Netgalley courtesy of the publisher.

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