Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Frozen Dead: Bernard Minier

Excerpt from summary at the publisher's website:
Saint-Martin-de-Comminges is a small town nestled in the French Pyrenees. The kind of place where winters are harsh and unforgiving and where nothing ever happens.
Until the winter morning when a group of workers discover the headless, flayed body of a horse, hanging suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff.
On the same day the gruesome discovery takes place, Diane Berg, a young psychiatrist starts her first job at a high-security asylum for the criminally insane, just a few miles away. 
From the beginning, this book had two strikes against it. It starts with the gruesome death of an animal and it is nearly 500 pages long. I have been doing better with very long books lately, but I would never choose to read one on an e-reader. As my son reminded me, I didn't do proper research before choosing this book to review through NetGalley. Now I am glad I did not, because I did enjoy reading the book. Had I known more about it in advance, I probably would have rejected it.

The action switches back and forth between the investigation, mostly taking place in town and in the surrounding areas, and the asylum. The story is told mostly from the point of view of Commandant Martin Servaz from the nearby town of Toulouse and the new psychologist at the asylum, Diane Berg. Diane serves as a clever way to provide the reader with information on the asylum, but some of her activities in an institution full of very scary criminals are a tad unbelievable. Yet, many stories of this type depend on the curious, intrepid character to move things along.

It was interesting getting a look at how French investigative departments work. In this case, the civilian police  force and the gendarmerie are cooperating, with a primary investigator from each group. The investigators feel that their time is being wasted. They think they should be working on homicides, not the death of an animal; they are only assigned to the case because the animal belongs to a rich and powerful man.

Soon enough there are equally gruesome murders of humans to be dealt with. Although the crimes are violent and depraved, they are not dwelled upon too much. Partly due to the types of inmates at the asylum, partly due to evidence found at the crime scenes, there is a distinct possibility that someone at the asylum is involved, either inmate or employee.

The main investigator, Servaz, is divorced and has a teen-aged daughter that he is worried about. Throughout the book there are hints of potential romances but for various reasons those do not go anywhere, which I liked because I don't usually care for romances in mysteries. There were many well defined secondary characters, and the author kept me guessing as to what the solution to the crimes was. The plot is complex, with more than one mystery to be solved, and I was surprised with the ending.

This book was almost too thrillerish for me, but I found the action to be believable and the twists and turns of the plot kept me interested through all 497 pages. I even stayed up late to finish the book. As far as the level of gritty, graphic depictions of crimes (after the fact), the book did not exceed my threshold in that area.

Marina Sofia has reviewed this book at Crime Fiction Lover. I first read about this book at Marina Sofia's blog, findingtimetowrite.

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Publisher:  Macmillan, 2014 (orig. pub. as GlacĂ©, 2011)
Length:  497 pages
Format:  e-book
Series:  1st book in a new series
Setting:  France, Pyrenees
Genre:   Mystery, Thriller
Translated:  From the French by Alison Anderson
Source:  Provided a copy for review by publisher, via NetGalley.


24 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed the book, despite your reservations! I thought it worked well with the wild nature, frozen winter and the closed communities of the area, but I have to admit that there was a feeling of deja vu about some of the plot elements.
    Still, I've got the second one in the series lined up (in French) and look forward to it!

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    1. Marina Sofia, I am finding I like thrillers if they move fast (essential) and have characters I can buy into. This one worked for me, even though it wasn't perfect. I do plan to read more in the series, assuming it is translated.

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  2. Sometimes it's best to not know so much ahead of time. You see the results...you liked the book and it worked out for you. Some stuff sound like challenging elements but it all depends on how the author uses them in the story and whether you trust the author in how they handle them. This sounds good so thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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    1. Keishon, I totally agree with your comment: "it all depends on how the author uses them in the story". That is the key to why I can have wildly different reactions to stories with similar elements. Style of writing and development of the plot can make the difference.

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  3. Tracy - Isn't it nice to find that you enjoy a book you might otherwise have passed up? I'm glad you thought that this one worked, despite your misgivings about it. It sounds as though the characters are credible and interesting.

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    1. Margot, I did find the characters in this book interesting (not necessarily likable) and that is why I hope to return to the series.

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  4. I love that cover, and I love the idea of your finding the book *because* you didn't check it out properly. It does sound good - if only the piles weren't so high....

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    1. It is a beautiful cover, Moira, and the setting was a large part of why I was interested in the book initially. I know what you mean about the piles. Have just been brooding on that. Frankly, I am more in the mood for older books at the moment, and it was fortunate that I found this book so agreeable. It mentions lots of contemporary music that I know nothing about, and definitely clothing.

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  5. TracyK: Thanks for an interesting review. I think I shall think about this book. Unfortunately for my TBR piles Sharon and I went to Calgary last weekend to visit our sons. I went into a bookstore to buy one book but ended up buying three and then we were by another bookstore and it had a book I have been looking for and then the boys gave me two more and then a book arrived from a publisher arrived on Monday. Sigh! Good intentions but ........

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    1. Bill, those book purchases don't sound unfortunate to me at all. Sounds like the perfect trip, family and bookstores.

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  6. Tracy, I'm glad you enjoyed it, but I won't be adding it to my list thanks.

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    1. Interesting, Col. I would have thought this would be closer to your type of book.

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    2. Hmm, it does look good admittedly but its length goes against it. It would be something I'd buy and then never read!

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    3. Short is good, we are in agreement on that, Col. 150 - 250 pages is perfect for me.

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  7. I think I would have picked this one up for the cover, and loved it for the setting. If I do end up reading it, I'll keep the thrillerish aspects in mind. I'm not normally a thriller fan, but if I am prepared for it, I can handle it.

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    1. The setting was the decisive factor for me, Ryan, and kept me going throughout. Thrillers are not my favorite either, even though books often get mis-labeled in hopes of gaining readers.

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  8. Glad to hear it's worth while because I must admit, like you, the length and animal killing would have stopped me picking it up too - still, 500 pages sounds like an awful lot for a thrilller ...

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    1. Sergio, once I got into it, the length did not bother me so much... except that I had a deadline to finish the book and I was afraid I would not make it. I can see some portions that could have been cut... I think.

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  9. Tracy, this looks interesting though I must admit that I don't usually read a very long novel without knowing something about the author and the book. I agree, the cover and setting make this a tempting read.

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    1. Prashant, this year I am making myself read some of my longer books from my TBR piles, mostly because I really do like the authors and I think they will be worth it. But in general, I like a shorter length for fiction or non-fiction. This one surprised me and luckily I did not get too frustrated with the length.

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  10. I am reading a very long book now (not crime) and regretting I ever started it. Too far into it to bail but boy, it is repetitive. The editor in me sees a hundred places it could have been cut but I think a lot of writers (editors, agents) think women like long books. Not this woman.

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    1. Patti, It does seem like publishers are encouraging the long book trend. Of course it could be my age, I use to be able to read more books and longer books with no problem. I was less discriminating in many ways but still enjoyed my reading.

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  11. It does sound good and I like the asylum setting and France is a new setting for me, but the length...I'm so behind now!

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    1. Peggy, I sort of read this accidentally, but I did not regret it. But if you don't want to get into a long book, I say hold off. I just checked on Goodreads and the next two books in the series are even longer. Not sure if I will continue, although I would love to follow up on the characters.

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