Tuesday, June 9, 2015

White Heat: M. J. McGrath

Introduction at the author's website:
Nothing on the tundra rotted . . . The whole history of human settlement lay exposed there, under that big northern sky. There was nowhere here for bones to hide.
On Craig Island, a vast landscape of ice north of the Arctic Circle, three travellers are hunting duck. Among them is expert Inuit hunter and guide, Edie Kiglatuk; a woman born of this harsh, beautiful terrain. The two men are tourists, experiencing Arctic life in the raw, but when one of the men is shot dead in mysterious circumstances, the local Council of Elders in the tiny settlement of Autisaq is keen to dismiss it as an accident.
Then two adventurers arrive in Autisaq hoping to search for the remains of the legendary Victorian explorer Sir James Fairfax. The men hire Edie – whose ancestor Welatok guided Fairfax – along with Edie’s stepson Joe, and two parties set off in different directions. Four days later, Joe returns to Autisaq frostbitten, hypothermic and disoriented, to report his man missing. And when things take an even darker turn, Edie finds herself heartbroken, and facing the greatest challenge of her life . . .
I will start off by saying I liked this book a lot. Initially I enjoyed it most for the setting and learning about Ellesmere Island, a location in Canada that I did not know existed. The story did start out slow for me. It took a long time to build up momentum, and then towards the end it almost turns into a thriller. I have been reading a lot of books with this tendency lately, and I am wondering if authors are encouraged to make their books more thrillerish.


I did not warm up to Edie or any of the characters immediately. I had very little understanding of the culture and it was hard to empathize and feel immersed in the story. I hate to say it, but I was put off a lot by the descriptions of the food (igunaq, fermented walrus gut; seal- blood soup; fried blubber) and it did affect my ability to enjoy the book at the beginning. All of these comments so far sound like I did not like this novel, but really I did.

Edie has problems dealing with others in the community because she doesn't fit in and she is outspoken but reluctant to cause trouble, a conflict she has to deal with throughout the story. At times this book seemed to cover so many issues about this Arctic area that I could not keep up with them: effects of global warming, corrupt officials, placid policemen, Russian oil men, energy companies attempting to gain a foothold in the area. Yet, in the end, I was pulled into the story and had adjusted to the cultural differences. Overall, I found the book interesting and an enriching experience.


As noted in the New York Journal of Books:
Ms. McGrath writes about the Arctic with authority. An award-winning journalist, she is also the author of The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal, a nonfiction work which tells how, in 1953, the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit from their flourishing home on the Hudson Bay to the barren, High Arctic desert of Ellesmere Island. 
That incident is mentioned in White Heat. It was the most interesting fact I gleaned from this book, and there were many.

Here is the opening paragraph of White Heat, setting the stage, and showing Edie's skill as a guide...
As she set a chip of iceberg on the stove for tea, Edie Kiglatuk  mulled over why it was that the hunting expedition she was leading had been so spectacularly unsuccessful. For one thing, the two men she was guiding were lousy shots. For another, Felix Wagner and his sidekick Andy Taylor hadn’t seemed to care if they made a kill nor not. Over the past couple of days they’d spent half their time gazing at maps and writing in notebooks. Maybe it was just the romance of the High Arctic they were after, the promise of living authentically in the wild with the Eskimo, like the expedition brochure promised. Still, she thought, they wouldn’t be living long if they couldn’t bring down something to eat. 
I will be reading any further books in the series, if only for the setting, and it will be interesting to see how Edie's story develops.

See reviews at The View from the Blue House, Ms. Wordopolis, It's a Crime, and Petrona. Some of them are very positive and some are negative.

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Publisher:   Penguin Books, 2012 (orig. pub. 2011)
Length:      381 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Edie Kiglatuk, #3
Setting:      Ellesmere Island,  Canada
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.


18 comments:

  1. I've been meaning to start this series for quite some time. Nice to hear your experience. A setting that I know very little about and that is a definite plus.

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    1. I agree, Kay, whenever the setting is very unusual and unfamiliar, it gives the story additional interest.

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  2. I bought a copy of this a couple of years ago, but haven't gotten around to it yet. I'm probably not in the mood for a slow-burner at the minute. I like the idea of discovering a new setting and culture though.

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    1. I will be interested to see how you like this one when you do read it, Col. Plenty of bad guys in the community and outside but that is only one focus of the book.

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  3. Tracy - I know exactly what you mean about the descriptions of food. They are an important part of showing the lifestyle and culture of the characters; at the same time, they can really be off-putting. Like you, I found Edie's character strong and in the end, appealing. But it did take me some time to get to know her, so to seak. Glad you enjoyed this one well enough to keep up with the series.

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    1. I definitely want to continue the series, Margot. There is always the problem of having enough money to buy all the books I want, but I can wait for booksales.

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  4. I read the one published last year (THE BONE SEEKER) but didn't review it for my blog. The Inuit lore and culture was the most interesting to me. I didn't think much of her lead character and there was too much soap opera for my tastes. That's my pet peeve with all contemporary crime fiction anyway. The crime plot had a very unusual motive and I was really only interested in that part of the very involved story. But I will give McGrath credit for an original background and a setting no one else has touched. I sure as heck learned a lot about Inuit cuisine which I have no desire to sample should it ever be offered to me. Oh be warned if you get to THE BONE SEEKER for a horrifying description of the savage murder. I've never read anything so nightmarish in any book. It's something I'd expect in a splatterpunk horror novel and I avoid those for obvious reasons.

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    1. John, I just read the term splatterpunk for the first time last night, in an effort to understand all the various genres and sub-genres. I agree, that level of violence is not agreeable to me either. I will keep that in mind if I get as far as THE BONE SEEKER. I also don't like the tendency toward too much soap opera in newer books. I did end up liking Edie, but the exposure to the culture is the real draw for me.

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  5. TracyK: I should read this book but have not gotten to getting it. Thanks for the good review.

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    1. I look forward to seeing what you think of this book, Bill. I am woefully ignorant of this part of Canada. I found it very very interesting.

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  6. I haven't come across this, but it sounds most interesting, I like the idea of finding out about the Inuit culture.

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    1. Me, too, Moira. I was amazed at how much I learned while reading this book, yet it never felt to me like extraneous data. Some other readers disagreed on this.

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  7. Tracy, I like the setting as well as the contemporary nature of the story. I didn't know the Inuit were akin to Eskimos. This is quite the unusual novel, I think.

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    1. I am in the same boat, Prashant, I know very little about Eskimos and their culture. Which made this book very interesting.

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  8. I think I actually have this one. I love books where the cultural aspects are as significant as the story and characters. Have you read Stan Jones yet? His books are set in Alaska and follow Nathan Active, who is Inupiat but was raised by white parents. I've read three books in the series so far and need to get back it. Very rich in culture and folklore.

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    1. I have not read the books by Stan Jones yet, Keishon. I do have the first one WHITE SKY, BLACK ICE, and it sound like I should get to it soon.

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  9. I liked this book and the main character, and was fascinated to learn about Inuit culture and then as I researched it, the forced settlement of Ellesmere Island by the Canadian government of Inuit people.

    The only thing I didn't like was the description of the food. If I had to live on it, I'd waste away. Glad I stopped eating meat years ago; if I hadn't, this book would have done it. Other than that, it was a good read and quite unusual.

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    1. It was good to discover such an unusual book, Kathy. I am going to look into her non-fiction also.

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