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White Heat by M.J. McGrath

M.J. McGrath is a British author who has written several non-fiction books about the Arctic and its native cultures; McGrath makes her fiction debut with White Heat, a story set in the isolated, Inuit Canadian tundra with a half Inuit protagonist.  All murder mysteries convey a sense of urgency especially when more people start dropping dead; in the instance of White Heat, the remote, cold, and inherently dangerous environment of the arctic adds to the sense of urgency and danger--if the murderer doesn't get to you, the frigid weather will if one's not careful.

Edie is the best guide on Ellesmere Island, but when she takes two American men out on the tundra for a routine hunting trip and one is shot and killed, a puzzling and dangerous mystery is uncovered --and promptly dismissed by her community's mayor.  More bodies fall in the wake of the first murder as the dead man's travel companion disappears on a later expedition guided by her beloved stepson, Joe, who also gets caught up in the middle of a perplexing and terrifying situation.  When Joe inexplicably commits suicide, Edie is left unmoored by her grief and spirals back into the depths of alcoholism after a hard won period of sobriety.

The mayor and even Joe's blood family accept his suicide at face value and are content to sweep the unexplained disappearance of the American explorer under the rug without further investigation.  However, Edie realizes it's up to her to find the answers to the shooting death of the first American, the whereabouts of the disappeared American, and the unanswered questions surrounding Joe's death.  To this end Edie sets out on a secret days long search of the isolated, thawing summer tundra to search for clues about what happened on Joe's ill fated expedition.  What she finds on a beach and in a cave is even more frightening and bewildering as Edie realizes there's more at work than she can fathom and that she must be careful about whom she trusts with the information she digs up.  Her unofficial investigation leads her hundreds of years into her family's past and across an ocean to another Inuit community.

This is a masterful, nail biting mystery that is unwound over many months and enriched by the Inuit language and culture depicted within its pages.  This is a story in which the arctic setting becomes as much a character demanding of respect of the human characters.  I'm not sure if this is intended as a stand alone novel or the advent of a new series.  I'm hoping new series--I'd like to read more about what happens to Edie.

This book is available at the library; I highly recommend you check it out.  Mystery lovers will especially appreciate this read.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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