From above the Arctic Circle comes Dana Eakin, a Dan Brown–style sleuth off to solve her first mystery in this debut novel.
The author Siri Hustvedt once described Iceland as a place where “day never really became night.” Cassin’s book—a kind of archaeological thriller—takes place in that northerly nation, and it’s a wonder that so many dark secrets can hide in a country where the sun never sets part of the year. Like a number of mysteries, the tale opens with a body, this one just barely peeking out from the thick ice. But the corpse is also nearly half a millennium old, and its slow thaw lets loose a bevy of dangers both ancient and modern. The author tasks a number of compelling characters with solving the body’s mysteries, but none of these figures are as intriguing as Cassin’s protagonist. Eakin is a remarkable new heroine—a smart, young anthropologist whose scientific acumen just happens to make her an excellent detective. (Perhaps her most recent literary forebear is Sophie Neveu of The Da Vinci Code.) Cassin hints that this might be just the first of many Eakin novels, and if that’s true, she’s off to a superb start. This tale is intricate and inventive, and its source material—Icelandic culture, epidemiology, lichenology—is quite unusual. That is not to say there aren’t some first-book wrinkles to iron out. Cassin has a tendency to overwrite. Once, when Eakin opens a heavy door, it is “as though she were entering a vault.” The author continues: “That door was authentic archival vault material,” and just a few lines later mentions the same “vault-like doors.” It’s tough to hammer a metaphor home any harder. Furthermore, the chapters—especially early on—are so brief that the narrative sometimes gets disjointed. (By Page 18, Cassin is already on Chapter 10.) It’s as if the author is so excited by her project that she wants to tell readers all of it at the same time. But as the book stretches out, Cassin relaxes. Readers do, too, and the remainder of the work is a thrill and a delight. Audiences will surely hope that this won’t be Eakin’s only case.
A distinctive page-turner starring a fine new detective.