‘You’re trying to be offensive.’
‘I don’t have to try. It comes naturally,’ Gunna told him. ‘Especially when people are economical with the truth.
Quentin Bates’ latest novel Cold Malice focuses on two strands: suicide of an enigmatic artist Áskell Hafberg, and the apparent drowning of his wife Birna five years earlier, and the under-the-radar return to Iceland of Ingvar Sturlaugsson, a man considered dead after the Thai tsunami of 2004. Reykjavík detective Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladóttir is big on compassion and even bigger on justice. She is of the same school of investigation as Arnaldur Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur, and will turn every stone until she finds an answer or two to a case that bothers her.
Bates’ convincing plots, precise building up of the tension and effortless narration are mixed with dry sense of humour and in-depth knowledge of Iceland. His novels have contemporary feel with elements of history and understanding of the ways the society works. He has honed his style over the years, thanks to his vast experience as a writer, journalist, and co-founder of IcelandNoir crime fiction festival. As a translator he enabled the Icelandic authors such as Gudlaugur Arason, Indriði G. Thorsteinsson, Sigurjón Magnússon, Ragnar Jónasson and Lilja Sigurðardóttir to enter the worldwide English-speaking market.
I am absolutely delighted to share Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s reflections on Quentin Bates:
‘Quentin doesn’t eat the seared sheep´s head. In fact he makes a funny face while he watches his wife and myself gobble down this local delicacy with a nice helping of mashed potatoes and green beans. And that funny face reminds me that he isn’t an Icelander. In other situations I tend to forget because he is Icelandic in most other ways. That said, many Icelanders don´t eat the seared sheep´s head, especially not the younger ones that grew up with the options of eating food that is actually nice.
My books are translated into many languages so I know translators. I have worked with so many of them but Quentin is not your usual translator. He has never studied translation or Icelandic but relies solely on his natural talent, of which he has plenty. And because he is a writer himself, he knows his crime fiction in and out so his translations benefit from that. Because translating is not only about knowing a language and then re-writing a text into your own language, it is about culture. And that´s why I tend to forget that Quentin isn’t Icelandic. Because he not only knows the culture, he has lived it. Being a fisherman on the turbulent seas around Iceland, having family here, eating (some of) the strange food for years on end has shaped his character into being so much like these few strange people that inhabit this island.
There is a saying in Iceland: Glöggt er gests augað (sharp is the guest´s eye) that means that guests sometimes see things that locals are not noticing anymore or take for granted. And that is the thing that makes Quentin so special: he is a local Icelander but at the same time he is also still a guest with a sharp eye that takes in things that an Icelander normally wouldn’t.
In his books about Gunna (detective Gunnhildur Gísladóttir) Quentin is at his best both as a local Icelander but also a sharp-eyed guest. Icelanders read those books and feel they are written by a local but English speakers would also find enough explanation of cultural and natural phenomena to enjoy the “Icelandicness” of the story. I always look very much forward to a new book from Quentin and I won´t be able to wait until Cold Malice is published in Icelandic, I will have to read it first in English as soon as it´s out. Gunna is one of my favourite crime fiction characters and nobody that gets to know her will regret it.’
You can read further thoughts on Cold Malice via the following links: