The Ice Shroud by Gordon Ell – As set out in my previous post I was invited by Craig Sisterson to participate in a worldwide blog tour of the books short listed for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards in New Zealand. Craig asked me to review The Ice Shroud, one of the finalists for the Best New Fiction Award.
There is a powerful graphic opening to the book with a woman’s body being found frozen face down along the edge of a river in a gorge on the South Island not far from Queenstown. Becoming a rock descender, Detective Sgt. Malcolm Buchan goes abseiling down to the river to free the body from the ice. The title effectively evokes the book.
When he subsequently sees the body up top Buchan recognizes her as Edie Longstreet, a woman he “Had Known. Intimately.” With their relationship several years in the past he hesitates and then decides not to disclose the relationship. As Longstreet is a resident of the area he knows her identity will soon be established. Concealing the relationship does mean a continuing tension on whether the relationship will be discovered during the investigation. I did find it hard to believe a Detective Sergeant would conceal his relationship with the deceased.
Among the police officers assisting Buchan are a pair of women. Detective Constable Deborah Somerville is a young woman with an “athletic figure” and “shoulder-length blonde hair”. Traffic Sgt. Magda Hansen has a “pleasant, even motherly-looking face”.
I appreciated that the primary investigative methods involve the intelligence of the police officers.
While Longstreet enjoyed numerous sexual relationships the search
for the killer, as with many investigations, turns
to financial issues. At her death Longsteet was running a business, Figments,
discreetly described as selling “saucy underwear” but the business is not doing
well. It is actually failing. While Queenstown is a resort community the
customer base for her merchandise is limited. How has she been able to keep the
|Ngaio Marsh Awards|
There is some deft phrasing. On how Longstreet was getting money:
‘I can’t understand how she got that,’ Constable Heaphy said. ‘It’s like she had a private line to the money god.’
Queenstown has 14,000 – 15,000 people and Longstreet has frequent interactions with members of the local business establishment, casually known as the “Gang”. Members of the Gang meet often for drinks at the end of the work day.
Reading about the Gang made me reflect on my role in the business community of Melfort, here in Saskatchewan. After 42 years in private legal practice I guess I would be considered part of the establishment. In our community of 6,000 the “establishment” does not gather socially as often as the fictional Gang in New Zealand. Our lives are also considerably less colourful than Ell’s businessmen.
The men who make up the Gang resent the impertinent police probing into their private and commercial lives. They are accustomed to their lives of privilege.
Ell provides a fine picture of life and landscape in the Queenstown region. The Ice Shroud is a distinctive New Zealand story. I did wish the unpleasant characters, especially men, were not consistently given unattractive appearances.
I found the ending abrupt but convincing. I had the impression there was some major editing. Ell is off to a good start in crime fiction. I expect his next book to be better yet and I hope to read it.