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Book review: <i>The Bone Seeker</i> by M J McGrath

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the cover of the book

Edie Kiglatuk is hoping for a quiet summer on Ellesmere Island, with a teaching post and the occasional hunt. But the land of the midnight sun is disturbed by a horrific murder, and the deeper Edie digs the more elusive the murderer becomes. Can Edie solve the mystery that's been plaguing Ellesmere for over fifty years?

The story

Ellesmere Island in summer is an odd place. Warm by local standards, the residents divide their time between their homes and their summer camps, hunting places that are inaccessible in winter. The sun hardly sets, and Derek Palliser of the local police can barely sleep for the whole season. Derek recommends Edie for a school teacher's job on the island, and she settles in nicely, setting up a tent in front of the police station. She starts a relationship with a researcher, and everything seems perfect, until her favourite student, Martha Salliaq, turns up dead in an area known by the locals to be haunted by spirits.

As Camp Nanook, a summer military base, have just arrived to complete their SOVPAT exercises, local suspicions turn to them immediately as the culprits. Derek commandeers Edie's expertise, and together the two of them investigate Martha's death with very limited resources - just themselves and a local nurse – while they wait for an ME to fly up to help.

It looks cut and dry, and Colonel Klinsman of Camp Nanook seems overly helpful, and more than willing to provide evidence pointing to two of his men. Something isn't quite right to Edie, though, and while her suspicions inflame the town's anger, she keeps digging.

The further she digs, the deeper the hole. Something terrible happened on Ellesmere, and the highest levels of government want to stop her from finding out. Can she solve the murder – and the mystery – before somebody stops her, perhaps forever?

The style

The Bone Seeker was what I've come to expect from McGrath; a compelling story written in a deceptively simple style. The narrative is third person limited focused on Edie, and the style suits the character. The detail in the writing is evocative without going overboard. I felt like I really learn things, reading McGrath's books. Being Australian, I have absolutely no idea about anything Innuit, from what they eat to the cultural attitudes and the contemporary issues they face. Obviously I come from a place where the indigenous people have their own set of difficult post-colonial obstacles, and so I find the story-line in that regard fascinating as a comparison. I also like reading about the food, and the weather, both of those things being so out of my scope. Daylight all night? Seal blood soup? What on earth?

Edie is a fantastic lead character, a tenacious and stubborn protagonist with an honesty about her faults that makes her ultimately very sympathetic. The peripheral characters are all pretty well dimensioned also, particularly Derek, Sammy, and Willa, who all previously appeared in McGrath's last story. What really made The Bone Seeker stand-out for me was the secondary story uncovered by the murder. It was well thought out, high stakes, mysterious, and something that governments around the world have routinely been guilty of for the last fifty years. I'm not going to reveal it here. Just read the damn book.

Who is this book for?

I like a crime fiction with a bit of a different setting. Nordic Noir? Can't get enough of it. Well, this is just around the other side of the arctic. It's stand out, and worth a go.

If you like this book, you would also like...

If you haven't read McGrath's other books, get on it.

In short

Title: The Bone Seeker
Author: M J McGrath
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 0670785806
Year published: 2014
Pages: 352
Genre(s): Crime fiction
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