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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Review of "White Heat" by Melanie J. McGrath

3 Stars
This is the first of the Edie Kiglatuk mysteries set in Canada’s high Arctic.  Everything begins when an American hunter is killed while on a hunting expedition guided by Edie, a half-white, half-Inuit woman.  Her community of Autisaq on Ellesmere Island wants to dismiss the death as an accident, but Edie is left uneasy, and when more deaths occur, she decides to investigate. 

I liked the character of Edie.  She is a strong-willed, intelligent woman, though she certainly has her flaws.  She struggles with alcoholism, by her mid-twenties, having “already drunk away her hunting career and . . . [being] well on the way to drinking away her life”.  The other character who is well-developed is Derek Palliser, a police officer upon whom Edie occasionally relies for help.  Derek is unmotivated except by his interest in lemmings and so has to be pushed to do anything.  Unfortunately, many of the other characters are mere caricatures of corrupt officials, unscrupulous whites, and greedy businessmen.  The “bad guys” are extreme in their behaviour. 

The book begins slowly, though the pace increases once Edie starts her investigation.  Then the mysteries pile up becoming very convoluted with several villains; it is sometimes difficult to remember who did what to whom.  At times the plot becomes rather farfetched.  What also becomes frustrating is Edie’s frequent stumbling upon clues that inevitably take her closer to solving the several mysteries. 

What impressed me most about the book is its rich detail about Inuit life and culture.  I was amazed to learn that the author is British.  She certainly has an understanding and appreciation for the Inuit.  She details the realities of life north of the Arctic Circle:  a harsh environment, poverty, alcoholism, fossil fuel exploration, and the effects of climate change.  The latter is emphasized with several references to the impact of global warming on the lives of both the people and the wildlife.  What will be remembered by many readers is the food:  Edie eats seal-blood soup, caribou tongue, fried blubber, and fermented walrus gut.  What I remember is a comment about gratitude: “Gratitude is a qalunaat [white] custom . . . Inuit were entitled to help from each other.  Gratitude didn’t come into it.”

I learned not only about how to conduct an Inuit search but about another dark chapter in Canada’s history:  Canada’s forced relocation, in 1953, of Inuit from their traditional home on the eastern coast of Hudson Bay to Ellesmere Island, the most northerly landmass on the planet.  The author of this novel wrote a non-fiction book about this relocation.  I will certainly be checking out this book entitled The Long Exile:  A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic.

Two other books in this series have been published:  The Boy in the Snow and The Bone Seeker.  Though the first book has flaws, I found it of sufficient quality that I will read at least the second in the series.