White Heat by M.J. McGrath

white heatWhite Heat by M.J. McGrath
Viking, 2011
Source: library

So White Heat may take place in the most far-flung locale of any book I’ve read this year: Ellesmere Island in the Arctic, part of the Nunavut territory of Canada. The main character is Edie Kiglatuk, who is half Inuit, and she is a hunting guide and teacher who investigates the mysterious death of one outsider (a man she led on a hunting expedition) and the apparent suicide of her former stepson Joe. She works by herself for most of the book, in true amateur PI fashion, and part of the time she works with Derek Palliser, a member of the High Arctic Police Service who also happens to be part Inuit.

The setting is key: the people, the society, the outsiders who move or visit Ellesmere Island, the land.  McGrath spends a lot of time describing Edie’s travels during the investigation and what measures she takes to survive the cold, and those passages make the setting more accessible to someone like me who’s never been to the Arctic.

I only have minor quibbles with the book, and those are that Edie’s dialogue toward the end feels a bit preachy and that the pacing feels a bit slow in spots. I’m picky about PI novels because I’ve overdosed on them over the last twenty years. I go into a PI novel a bit skeptical that the protagonist can reach the conclusion on her own. That being said, I did enjoy this book a great deal.

Other reviews appear in Books to the Ceiling (includes lots of background information on McGrath’s nonfiction work about the Inuit), Petrona, and Raven Crime Reads.

Finally, a word on how I chose the novel. It was a pick of the Crime Fiction Book Club organized by Rebecca Bradley that meets via Google Hangout monthly. I encourage you to check it out— and I hope to make the November meeting.

17 thoughts on “White Heat by M.J. McGrath

  1. Rebecca – I liked this book very much too. The setting was so well-crafted, and the dialogue is pitch-perfect I thought. I also liked what I learned about the lives of people who live as far north as Edie does. I’m quite certain I couldn’t live that way, but it was absolutely fascinating to learn about it. Excellent review

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed this book Rebecca. I really loved the setting and even though, like you I found it a little slow in parts, I’d definitely read the next one. Thank you for sharing the book club with your readers.

    • You’re welcome: thanks for organizing #crimebookclub, Rebecca. I’ve been horrible about attending my in-person book club since I had children as well, but I’m making a concerted effort to attend via Google Hangout next month.

  3. I’ve heard so many good things about this from various reviews and through Rebecca’s bookclub (I’m a voyeur though not a participant) that I think it’s a must for the TBR now. 🙂

    • I’m definitely interested in book 2, and I’ll look for your review once I finish it. Now on the pressing business of finishing Halloween prep!

  4. I’ve added it to my wish-list – even though I’m supposed to be concentrating on battening down the hatches and reading what I already have!

    • It sounds a bit like the Stan Jones series you just posted about. I didn’t realize there were so many Alaska or Arctic series. I’ve only read Dana Stabenow before this one.

  5. I enjoyed this book because of the setting, which was very new to me. It also led me to many google searches about Ellesmere Island and the forced migration there by the Inuit. The author does have a nonfiction book about this, which I’d like to read at some point when I have time (sigh).
    I also liked the protagonist. This was a different kind of book, and after reading or opening the covers of so many cookie-cutter books, I’m glad to read something that gives a different edge or style or setting — or all three. And this book did it.
    The only thing that bothered me was the food, however, I recognize that what was eaten is what’s available in the region — and people do hunt for sea mammals. The book made me glad I have shunned eating mammals for many years. If I hadn’t, this book would have led me in that direction. Far from Salvo Montalbano’s pasta and pesce in sunny Vigata, Sicily.

    • The nonfiction book by McGrath sounds very interesting to me too: it’s amazing to me all the things I didn’t learn about the Cold War as I was growing up at the end of it.

      I agree on your other two points too, Kathy: I’m always looking for something unique in the books I read, and Edie in the High Arctic was completely different than what I’ve been reading lately. As for the food, the scenes didn’t bother me so much because at least I wasn’t watching Anthony Bourdain or the the host of some other travel/food show with those meals and snacks. At least I could skim those parts!

      Are you reading anything good lately? I have 4 more books to complete the Global Reading Challenge: 2 Asia, one Australia, and one South America, and I’m waiting for a couple holds to arrive at the library before I can finish. And the end of the year is quickly approaching!

  6. I liked Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint by a Japanese writer, both very clever and intelligently written. I read Argentinian writer, Claudia Pineiro’s book A Crack in the Wall — it’s more cerebral and reflective, rather than action-oriented, but it’s interesting. Her book Thursday Night Widows I very much liked.
    Then there’s Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Brazilian writer, with Detective Espinosa. Like his books.
    Australia — there are many. I like Angela Savage’s books with Jayne Keeney, investigator. They’re set in Thailand but by an Australian author who’s lived in Southeast Asia. The Dying Beach is the third and latest one, which I raced to finish. There are so many good writers in Oz. I like Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi books. Many read Kathryn Fox’s series featuring a forensics expert. Peter Temple’s books are good. Adrian Hyland’s two books with Emily Tempest give a terrific sense of place among the Indigenous peoples. His writing is superb.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Kathy. I’m finishing The Eye of Jade right now. by a Chinese expat living in London, about a female PI in Beijing, and I have the first Angela Savage as well as Wendy James. I’m still a bit up in the air about South America, but I should be able to finish by the end of the year. I’ll keep my eyes out for Suspect X.

  7. If you haven’t read Witness to Night by Kishwar Desai, it’s worth reading. It is a prize-winning novel, in addition to its crime fiction aspect. However, I was down for awhile after reading this book, as the oppression of women and girls seems relentless.

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