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