An elderly ship-owner is found dead, tied to a bed in a Reykjavik hotel. This appears to have been an accidental death, though the person who trussed up the dead man has vanished. However, as Sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir probes the case and the discreet bondage ring operating in the city, she begins to suspect there may be a major criminal racket that the police are totally unaware of.
Gunnhildur, or Gunna as we come to know her, here makes her third appearance in Quentin Bates's series of crime novels. The author is English but brings an outsider's fascinated gaze to bear on Iceland, now in the grip of the recession's chill aftermath. With Gunna, he has created a warm but tough character, not untouched by tragedy (her husband was killed) but surrounded by the mayhem of her adolescent children and soon to become a grandmother before her 40th birthday. She is a shrewd detective, but one with a gentle sense of humour, and makes a refreshing contrast to the many tortured, macho fictional cops to be found along the bookshelves.
In Chilled to the Bone, Bates skillfully weaves a multi-stranded story that builds from a rather mundane hotel death into a much more dangerous investigation involving powerful men protecting their secrets. Gunna tries to locate the woman who bound the dead man and has been robbing her embarrassed, wealthy clients after handcuffing them to hotel beds. Then there's Baddo, a local villain who's just served eight years in a Lithuanian prison and been deported back to Iceland. Gunna realises he's also after the mystery woman and may be closer to locating her than the police are. Another strand follows Joel Ingi Bragason, a worker at a government ministry, who lost his laptop containing vital secrets to the female scamster. And finally there's the bondage woman herself, Hekla – stunning, clever but whose difficult circumstances at home made robbing rich men an irresistible escape to a better life.
As Bates unfurls this intricate plot, the tension increases and the characters evolve. It's a rich read for anyone who enjoys a police procedural driven by dark deeds and well-drawn characters.