White Heat by M.J. McGrath plays out on Arctic islands off of Greenland. Edie Kiglatuk, the book’s main character, is a part-time teacher and a guide for hunters on Ellesmere and other islands. At the start of the book, she guides two men – Felix Wagner and Andy Taylor – on a hunt. The longer Edie is out with the two men, the more she becomes convinced neither is on this trip to kill anything. Both are more interested in checking out the tundra, writing notes and speaking between themselves than with aiming guns at any animals they might see.
While Wagner and Taylor setup camp, the trip takes a sudden turn when shots ring out while Edie is making tea for herself and them. Edie comes out of her tent to find Taylor panicking and Wagner bleeding out. She takes control of the situation and begins to treat Wagner with an emergency first aid kit and some help from Taylor. Once Wagner stabilizes, Edie radios for help but an arriving blizzard delays their rescue by plane and Wagner dies.
In the days after the incident, Edie can’t get what happened out of her mind. It irks her. She tries to get the police headed by Derek Palliser, his deputy Stevie, and the Ellesmere council to take Wagner’s death seriously. But the whole thing is written off as a hunting accident. Edie’s former husband Sammy then asks her to take adventurer Bill Fairfax west near Umimatisatsaq, on Craig Island in the arctic, where she had guided Wagner and Taylor. She would do this while her former stepson Joe guides Andy Taylor around Fritjof Fiord to the east on the same island. The separate journeys are being made to investigate the possible areas where Fairfax’s relative, a legendary Victorian explorer, was last known to have been. Like, her first trip, things go terribly wrong. Another blizzard hits, and the two parties become separated. Edie and Fairfax make it back safely. However, Joe and Taylor are caught in a storm, and only Joe makes it back barely alive.
These two back to back incidents make Edie even more determined to find out what happened. And just like before, the council, and the police would rather write this up as yet another accident. Later when Joe dies of an apparent suicide, nothing stops Edie from getting to the bottom of things. Her investigation reveals a fight between two international energy companies who want the gas hidden under the very ground where Edie led the two groups.
I enjoyed M.J. McGrath’s book very much. Not only did she write an intriguing mystery set in the Arctic, she also provides a very good picture of the lives of the Inuits. McGrath created a headstrong and determined character with Edie. I very much want to get to know this woman, who is out to make sure justice gets done. I could easily see Edie ultimately leading Palliser into doing his job consistently on a regular basis. Boy do Edie and Palliser work well together. I would recommend others check out White Heat and other books by M.J. McGrath.