This book is not written BY a Canadian, and does not take place IN Canada, but is about Inuits from the Arctic Circle in far northern Canada. This book may not make you want to travel to its main locale, Alaska, but it just may make you yearn to visit the Inuit settlement on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, in search of Edie.
Book: The Boy in the Snow, An Edie Kiglatuk Mystery (NEW in paperback and e-book, October, 2013) by M. J. McGrath
As I read this book, the last part* of a poem called Fire and Ice by Robert Frost kept running through my head:
…I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Nome Alaska, Coast of the Bering Sea, Photo by Dan Perez
The Boy in the Snow: An Edie Kiglatuk Mystery is so firmly dependent on its setting and the culture of its main characters, that you might say it is frozen in place. (Ouch! Terrible pun.) The setting is Alaska, where Edie Kiglatuk has gone to help her ex-husband who is running the Iditarod (the unique dog-sled marathon). Edie, her husband, and a policeman/game warden sidekick come from Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Circle. They are Inuit. Edie is only half Inuit (her friends joke that she wears her wristwatch on the other half) but culturally, the ways of the “Outside” mystify her as much as she mystifies the outsiders. She tries to explain herself to an Alaskan policeman early in the book.
“Listen detective, I was born in Autisaq on Ellesmere Island. Seventy people live in Autisaq…I watch TV, I teach at the school, but your world, this world, is hot and crowded and noisy and you eat stuff that doesn’t even resemble food…“
Writer M.J. McGrath does for the Inuit (Eskimos to us outsiders) what Tony Hillerman did for Navajos. I was hoping her website would give me more insight into how a non-fiction writer (by the name of Melanie McGrath) from England becomes expert enough on the Inuit to write a whole detective series. I did learn that she wrote a book about the transport of a people from Hudson Bay to Ellesmere Island. She has an old post in her moribund blog about the high rate of homicide in the Arctic Circle. Finally I got a little insight with this CBS interview, from soon after her first book, White Heat, was published.
Inuit Man in Kayak, 1929
McGrath gives us a peek into the Inuit lives while letting us see ourselves reflected in their eyes. The reflection is not always a pretty sight.
Led into the woods by what she believes is a spirit bear, Edie discovers the frozen body of a baby. That incident sets up her very unofficial investigation that leads to political corruption,religious intolerance, human trafficking and numerous dead bodies.
The actions of the dangerous people in this story are magnified by the dangers and unique challenges of the frozen landscape. While Edie sees the snow and ice as a friend, they also become a deadly enemy. Driven to continue her hunt–Inuit women, are born to hunt–she tracks her prey tirelessly, waiting for her chance.
Along the way she makes sharp observations like this of her neighbors in the apartment building ” (they) were living like cliff birds, wedged into their tiny little fortresses, puffing up their feathers and pecking away all comers, wary of any motives that were not their own.“
Edie befriends a waitress who learns to serve her a double hamburger without the bun and minus veggies, a dish of reindeer stew, and a side order of bacon. She kills a coyote to freeze chops for her dog. Although she’s driven snowmobiles before, she teaches herself to drive a four-wheel vehicle for the first time by renting a truck and taking off from Anchorage for Homer, driving through snow and rutted roads.
People who have visited Alaska may be amused or bemused by her observations of familiar places. Anchorage, she says, is not different from “the other tiny frozen hamlets she was familiar with, human settlements hopelessly outclassed by surroundings that were forever threatening to swallow them up.”
While I moved across the country to get away from freezing winters, Edie only feels really comfortable in weather that calls for four layers of clothing. Riding a snowmobile out of Nome, she says:
The sun appeared briefly, and it was bitter cold, the kind of hard crisp freeze you could do business with. Heading east on the sea ice with the land spread low and rocky to her left, the great expanse of Norton Sound to the right, she felt more at home than she had since she’d arrived in Alaska.
Inuit Nation Map, Photo by Douglas Sprott
Edie Kiglatuk is certainly the most original amateur detective I’ve every come across, and I highly recommend it for its peek at a culture we generally don’t learn about. The Boy in the Snow is the 2nd in the series. McGrath’s first, White Heat, was highly praised, and I’ve asked the publisher to send me a copy of that book also, so I can give TWO lucky readers a chance to meet Inuit Edie Kiglatuk.
YES! There’s a GIVEAWAY!
Penguin has also released a special e-book a holiday book featuring Edie, the Inuit detective. I’ll be talking more about Edie Kiglatuk’s Christmas: An Edie Kiglatuk Mystery
in the future, but it is available now for just $1.99, if you want to check the link to Amazon.
Win your print copy of a Edie Kiglatuk mystery–either The Boy in the Snow or White Heat, by getting a chance each time you:
1. Leave a note on Facebook about this contest with a reference to Vera Marie Badertscher (with the @sign or name highlighted so that I’ll see it).
2. Leave a comment below in the comment section
Entrants MUST be residents of the United States with a U.S. mailing address, and must be over 18. Contest Ends November 8, midnight MST.
See general contest rules and annoying fine print.
Disclosures: The publisher has provided copies of the books for review and for the contest. Photos here are from Flickr, and are acknowledged. Click on the photo for more information. Links to Amazon are for your convenience, should you want to buy the book. However, I am obligated to tell you that A Traveler’s Library will make a few cents off of any purchases you make through those links. That’s how we keep running this site, so thank you!
*Fire and Ice by Robert Frost starts:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice…