Today I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for the Morecambe and Vice Crime Festival. Each day bloggers will be featuring books from the authors who will be appearing at the festival. I’m thrilled to be paired with Quentin Bates, author of the Iceland set Gunnhildur series, and I have both a review of his latest novel, Cold Breath, and a Q&A to share with you all. Thanks to Sarah at Book On The Bright Side Publicity for inviting me to join in, and to the author for providing a copy of the book for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Gunnhildur reluctantly allows herself to be taken off police duties to act as bodyguard to a man with a price on his head . . .Available from: Amazon | Waterstones | Kobo | Googleplay | Apple Books
Hidden away in a secure house outside Reykjavík, Gunna and the high-profile stranger, a guest of the interiors minister, are thrown together – too close for comfort. They soon find they are neither as safe nor as carefully hidden as Gunna and her boss had thought. Conflicting glimpses of the man’s past start to emerge as the press begin to sniff him out, as does another group with their own reasons for locating him.
Gunna struggles to come to terms with protecting the life of a man who may have the lives of many on his conscience – or indeed may be the philanthropist he claims to be.
Isolated together, the friction grows between Gunna and the foreign visitor, and she realises they are out of their depth as the trails lead from the house outside Reykjavík to Brussels, Russia and the Middle East.
Hi Quentin. Thank you for taking part in this Q&A. It’s a mix of quick fire getting to know you questions and (hopefully) some more serious ones too. Here we go
Favourite childhood book?
Favourite/most influential author?
There are so many! Let’s say Saki, as I can always come back to his short stories.
Life of Brian.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I don’t have guilty pleasures. If I enjoy something I don’t feel guilty about it…
Best compliment you’ve had for your work?
Not sure… Probably the reviewer who said one of my books was reminiscent of Maigret. I’ll take that as a compliment.
The people who assume that because the books are set in Iceland that they’re translated from Icelandic – and they wonder if something has been lost in translation.
Coffee or tea?
Tea in the morning, coffee in the afternoon. Neither after six.
Plotter or pantser?
A bit of both. I normally have a fairly loose outline with room to improvise.
Handwritten notes or typed?
Both. Scribbled on envelopes or in a notebook, tapped into a phone, or straight to computer.
Favourite place to write? Alone or in public?
The kitchen table is best. And not because the biscuit tin is within easy reach.
Do you have a soundtrack for your writing? If so what is it?
Generally silence works best. If I have a soundtrack then it has to be either classical or something exotic as I find lyrics I can understand really distracting. So it has to be in a language I don’t understand.
Jaffa Cake: Cake or biscuit?
It’s not something I have strong opinions about and am prepared to accept both points of view. But I can’t have Jaffa Cakes in the house as they mysteriously disappear.
More serious stuff now… (ish)
Can you start by telling us a little about your Gunnhildur Series? What was the inspiration behind your lead character?
When I started trying to make sense of the first book, the male lead character was a lot of clichés rolled into one, and I quickly realised that he wasn’t working, while his sidekick was a far more interesting character who had taken shape in the background. So he was quickly dropped and Gunnhildur was promoted to the lead. I’m not sure what the inspiration for her was, as she appeared almost fully formed. I’m pretty sure she’s an amalgam of half a dozen people I know.
Tell us a little about the most recent book, Cold Breath. What can readers expect?
It’s the nearest I’ll probably ever get to writing a spy story… I wanted to throw Gunnhildur together with a very different character and see how they get on (or not), so she’s a bodyguard for someone who is very alien to her, a person who has very different values to her and who also has a very murky past. They don’t like or trust each other, but they are forced to spend time cooped up together, and find out a lot about each other in the process. The stranger has plenty of bad stuff on his conscience – assuming he has a conscience. It gets sticky as he’s being hunted by people who want to kill him, and also by a journalist who wants to splash him all over the front page.
What prompted you to begin writing?
I worked on a magazine quite a few years ago for an editor who had very rigid, restrictive ideas on how everything should be written. Essentially, everything in the mag had to be exactly as if he had written it himself. So writing fiction started as a release from that particular strait jacket. I later found out that the deputy editor and the ad guy were also writing novels in the evenings.
What drew you to write about and set your books in Iceland? And is your natural instinct to write in English first or Icelandic?
English is my first language, so I have to write in English. My spoken Icelandic and understanding are fine, but my wonky grammar means that I can write emails and whatnot, but wouldn’t try to write anything more than that.
I lived in Iceland for a long time, know the place as well as anyone who isn’t a local could, so it was logical to use that knowledge and insight to use Iceland as a setting. Maybe I’ll try somewhere else as a setting one day, but not yet.
As well as being a very talented writer, you are well known for your work translating Icelandic fiction into English. Which do you prefer? Writing or translating? And which comes easier?
Translation is easier in some respects, because someone else has already done all the hard work of plotting. I couldn’t say which I prefer as they are quite different – same toolbox but different tools. Translating something that’s really good comes easily, but working with something dull can be challenging. I translate technical stuff and news material as well, and that can be heavy going.
Your book titles all make Iceland sound a tad on the chilly side. What do you do outside of writing to keep the chill at bay?
The publisher expects a chilly title every time. Let’s say we don’t always agree and the resulting title tends to be a compromise.
These days I don’t seem to do much other than write, what with fiction, translation and a day job (which is also writing). I’m quite happy if I get some time to be lazy with a good book, or spend time with my grandchildren.
What one part of Icelandic life do you think that everyone should experience? And what part of it could you not live without?
It’s the tranquillity of the place – but that means getting away from Reykjavík. If you go to Iceland, by all means take a quick look at 101 (the central district where the hipsters and the tourists are), but don’t bother with the Blue Lagoon or the Golden Circle. Instead, head off around the coast to the north and west, and the pace of life slows down as soon as you’ve come out the other side of the Hvalfjörður tunnel. Enjoy the landscape, the snow on the peaks, the Arctic blue of the sea on a bright day, and the big skies. It’s worth the trip.
If you could go back in time to when you first started writing, what one piece of wisdom or advice would you give to/share with the younger you?
Life is short! Just stop messing about and get on with it!
Finally, what’s next for Gunnhildur and the team?
There’s another Gunnhildur in the works at the moment, and this time one of the other detectives takes a more prominent role as someone from the past comes back to haunt. He sees someone he knows has to be dead, but is somehow standing right next to him. I’m still deciding whether or not to give Gunnhildur the long-overdue promotion she certainly deserves, which was promised in Cold Breath.
Thank you once again Quentin. Looking forward to that next book already.
Given the way my year has gone, it probably won’t come as a complete surprise if I tell you that this is the first book I have read in the Gunnhildur series. I’m kind of kicking myself now as I can see what I’ve been missing, but at least I have the still have benefit, and joy, of catching up on what I’ve missed.
In this outing for Detective Gunnhildur Gisladóttir we see her taken from her normal duties and attached to a private protection team, tasked with personal security for a guest of the Interior Minister, a high profile figure whose reputation is not necessarily without controversy. Tracked down by journalists, who are keen to get a scoop on the visitor and their link to one of Iceland’s most prominent politicians, the anonymity that Gunna and the team had hoped for is in short supply. And with an apparent price on the man’s head too, it’s not long before Gunna finds herself in the firing line. Set against a backdrop of racial and political disharmony, this is a book which is part mystery, part action novel, and a totally engrossing read.
I loved the way in which the author paints the landscape in which the book is set. Not just the big city lights of Reykjavik, but the grand splendor of the country estate in which Gunna and her charge hole up. You get a real sense of place, the language used creating such clear imagery that it almost seemed like I was there, I could feel the chill on my shoulders, not just because of the climate but because of the underlying sense of menace that feeds throughout the story.
I found the characters fascinating. I certainly want to read more about Gunnhildur as she seemed to be a great character with a big story to tell. I like her steel, her determination, and her commitment to both her job and her family. If you have read the Reykjavik Noir series by Lilja Sigurdardottir then there will be one or two familiar names that crop up too. They definitely made me smile. As for the person Gunna is charged with protecting, Ali Osman, he is equal parts charm and sleaze, and it is hard to know quite how to feel about him. He is an unknown. Just when you think you understand him, there is a new action or revelation that makes you rethink. And speaking of revelations, there is one big reveal, a character who is a completely refreshing break from the norm, that I really appreciated. I say that because I’m not sure that like is a term I would want to apply to a cold blooded assassin, but I like that the author dispensed with the expected when it came to creating his nemesis for this book.
Having read a few Icelandic novels now, I really did get that flavour of the culture and the pace of life coming through in the book, as well as the reference to the changing face of politics within the country. It felt authentic, matching the pace of the story. Although there are some very dramatic moments, you shouldn’t expect high octane action – it just won’t happen in Iceland. The story wasn’t without it’s moments of jeopardy and the close calls, but it is a different kind of violence that matches a different kind of culture.
I thoroughly enjoyed this read, loving the change of pace whilst still keeping the tension and intrigue alive. Definitely recommended and I’m looking forward to going back over the previous books now.
About the Author
Quentin Bates escaped English suburbia as a teenager at the end of the 70’s. A gap year in Iceland turned into a gap decade before returning to England with a family, a language and a profession acquired in the far north.
The delights of writing crime fiction follow almost twenty years as a journalist working for obscure nautical trade publications.
He has written the Gunnhildur series of eight (so far) novels and novellas set in Iceland, alongside translating fiction from Icelandic to English, including novels by Ragnar Jónasson, Indriði G Thorsteinsson, and Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Reykjavík Noir series – with more to come.
Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook
About Morecambe and Vice
In September 2017, Morecambe & Vice made its sparkling debut at the glorious Morecambe Winter Gardens. Described as a weekend ‘full of warmth, wit and wisdom’, authors, speakers and guests from across the globe flocked to the sunny seaside for a weekend filled with criminal shenanigans.
Now, in 2019 we are back for our third year running! This year the North West’s quirkiest crime-writing festival will be bigger and better than ever before! You can find tickets here.
Follow the tour: