Friday, 29 August 2014

The Frozen Dead by Bernard Minier

St. Martin's Press
Minotaur Books; Reprint edition (Aug. 12 2014)
482 pages - 29.41 $

Frozen is the first novel by a former worker in the French customs administration. His book was widely praised by the press when released in France in 2011 and he released a second book Le Cercle in 2012 in which me meet back with the same character, Servaz a literate and sensitive cop.

The blurb

A suspenseful and chilling murder mystery set in a high-security asylum for the criminally insane and the snowy mountains of the French Pyrenees

The first victim is a horse: its headless, flayed body hangs suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff. On the same day as 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. She is baffled by the slightly unorthodox methods the asylums's director uses, and then greatly alarmed when she realizes that drugs are disappearing from within the fortified institution while someone seems to be slipping out at night. 
Commandant Martin Servaz, a charismatic, Toulouse city cop fond of quoting Latin, can’t believe he has been called out over the death of an animal. But there is something disturbing about this crime that he cannot ignore. Then DNA from one of the most notorious inmates of the asylum, a highly intelligent former prosecutor who is accused of killing and raping several women, is found on the corpse... and a few days later the first human murder takes place. 
Servaz and his colleague, the mysterious Irene Ziegler, must use all their skill to solve the terrifying mystery, in The Frozen Dead by Bernard Minier.

What's good about it ?

The atmosphere is really oppressive. Everything is cold, white (because of the snow) or gray or ugly. The suspects include prisoners locked up in an asylum for the most horrific killers. There are a lot of strange people. This creates a rather morbid and creepy feel it must be said. In my case, it was too much. Each time a character takes the road to the asylum or the place of the first crime we're entitled to the overwhelming feelings of that character - sinister course - about the surrounding nature, the road and his feeling of discomfort or fear. So, admittedly, it helps to feel the sensation of discomfort. Yet to live in Quebec (which is not a country but a winter!), I mostly meet people who love their country and think that winter are beautiful with its snowy landscapes. I think it would have been more realistic to include some positive people, right? 

The story is well put together. There's even a twist towards the end that blew me away. The investigation is realistically resolved, the explanations stand and even the escape of a character suggests a possible sequel without a frustrating cliffhanger. The only concern is that the book is a bit long. That's a lot of pages for a thriller and it's very difficult to keep a steady pace as long. So to fill the pages, it is easier to write description (of feelings, landscapes, mundane acts...) This is where - in my case - the author loses me and I start skipping parts to find the dialogue or the action. Now I know that some readers enjoy taking their time in a story, they like to take the full measure of the atmosphere and decor. So, dear reader, if that's your case, this is the book for you. 

And what about the characters? Servaz the literate and sensitive cop is a little too sensitive for my liking, he is afraid of so many things that it's a miracle he's a cop! As for his way of reciting Latin sentences at all costs, I must say it's déjà vu and a little too cliche for my taste. It must be said that there are still several cliche in the characters but that doesn't spoil the story. Still, Servaz is a smart cop who leads good deductions and his team of geek cop is quite endearing. So it's a character that we'll like to follow.

In a nutshell

A well-crafted first novel, a story and an atmosphere murky at will but a story a tad longish, it's a 3/5 for me.

Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to me by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.

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