White Heat by M.J. McGrath (Viking, 2011) is the first book in the Edie Kiglatuk series set in the extreme northern part of Canada near the Arctic Circle in the Queen Elizabeth Islands. From the first page the reader is immersed in an alien ice-covered world, where the sun does not rise for months at a time and does not set for months at other times. Outside temperatures are routinely below zero degrees and running or any exertion that results in sweat is avoided because hypothermia is sure to follow. Compasses fail this far north since the electromagnetic field is unreliable near the North Pole. Options for transportation are limited to dog-pulled sleds, snowmobiles, and airplanes.
Tourism is the primary and almost only industry in this barren wilderness. Half Inuit and half Caucasian, and thereby an outsider, Edie ekes out a living as a part-time guide to vacationing hunters and as a part-time teacher in the local school. A routine trip with two inept hunters ends suddenly as one of them is shot while she is setting up camp. She barely has time to investigate the incident to avoid blame which would result in the forfeiture of her thin stream of guide revenue when a relative unexpectedly commits suicide. Devastated by the loss, Edie is intent on proving that the death is not what it seems, regardless of the opposition of the village and her family. Her fact-finding resources are limited, although she does have the reluctant support of the local law enforcement officer, who is also an outsider.
More than a mystery or a thriller, although certainly competent as either, this riveting book describes the encroachment of the 21st century on a civilization struggling to maintain its way of life, the profound impact of climate change on people and wildlife, and the unjust treatment of the Inuits, who were relocated to the harsh northern territory by the Canadian government much as the Native Americans were relegated to undesirable lands by the U.S. government. In fact, reading about the Inuits is depressingly similar to reading about present-day Native Americans: they both share a high incidence of poverty, alcoholism, diabetes, and suicide. It is hard to separate the mystery plot elements from the socio-economic description, the political commentary, and the environmental travelogue.
I am happy that I started this book on a weekend because I found it nearly impossible to put down. I have the next one in the series which I am afraid to start for fear it won’t be as good as the first. Highly recommended. Booklist starred review, finalist for the 2011 Gold Dagger Award.
· Hardcover: 400 pages
· Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (August 4, 2011)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0670022489
· ISBN-13: 978-0670022489
Aubrey Hamilton © 2017
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.