Iceland probably isn’t the nicest place to die. It’s cold, it’s wet, and everyone eats too much salted fish. But judging by Frozen Assets, there are worse places to be a police officer. Officer Gunnhildur, the novel’s stalwart heroine, has her share of complaints: low budgets, an ossified bureaucracy, and a corpse in the harbor of her sleepy town that may not have gotten there on its own initiative. Those complaints don’t stop her from doing her job, though. Once Gunna (as her friends call her) decides there’s something suspicious about the case of the bobbing corpse, it doesn’t matter how high the chain of evidence goes. She will pursue her man to the end, which makes her a compelling character; problem is, the challenges she faces aren’t up to her determination, which makes for a solid but less-than-thrilling story.
Billed as An Officer Gunnhildur Mystery Set in Iceland, Assets reads like the pilot episode of a moderately high-concept CBS drama. Journalist Quentin Bates sketches Gunna’s small-town home with efficient brevity, providing a likeable cast of support characters, from co-workers to inept superiors to a young reporter eager to make a name for himself. The Icelandic names can be hard to keep track of, and sometimes Bates’ efficiency is as much hindrance as help; with so many consonant/vowel combinations, it can be difficult to keep track of who’s being relentlessly polite to whom. There’s a lot of plot here, and sometimes the details get lost.
And yet Assets is never less than readable. No matter how many corrupt officials or government kickbacks complicate the situation, the main threads are clear enough. Gunna is a distinctive lead, dogged but not unimaginative, and refreshingly middle-aged. While it’s hard to get too attached to the people she works with, there’s potential for development. The portrait of a genially decadent system falling under the weight of honest cops and determined investigators is refreshingly low-key, although some of the details (including periodic interjections from a muckraking blog) aren’t entirely necessary. What Assets lacks in urgency, it doesn’t entirely make up for in charm—but it comes close enough.