WHITE HEAT by M.J. McGrath


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In her first fiction work, McGrath brings qalunaat (white man) to the silver white cold of Canada’s great empty north, there to contrast modern greed and ambition with the ancient wisdom of the Inuit. 

The setting is Ellesmere Island, Unmingmak Nuna, a far-north outpost of Canadian sovereignty. Intuit peoples were lured there decades ago by Canadian politicians fearful of America’s Greenland presence. The story follows Edie Kiglatuk, half-white but also a descendant of the great guide Welatok, who accompanied Sir James Fairfax on his arctic explorations. Edie is a guide for hunters and fishermen, a part-time schoolteacher and a fierce protector of her stepson, Joe, a settlement youngster with ambitions other than video games and alcohol. Early one spring, Edie and Joe guide two qalunaat across the ice of Jones Sound to Craig Island. There one qalunaat is shot dead. Edie and Joe believe it's murder or manslaughter, but the Council of Elders fears the loss of tourist trade. The council declares the shooting was a self-inflicted wound, a ricochet from an accidental shot. Edie, facing discrimination in a patriarchal society, goes along, but Joe is troubled. Enter Derek Palliser, a mixed-race Northern Communities police sergeant and an amateur naturalist who studies lemmings. The narrative broadens to include meteorites, iridium, missing pages from Fairfax’s diaries, Texas and Russian energy companies, NASA researchers, corruption in Edie’s village, drugs and more murders. McGrath has written a mystery, but one reminiscent of Tony Hillerman’s culture-clash novels. The language is beautiful, especially the descriptions of the Inuit people, living in “a place littered with bones, with spirits, with reminders of the past…surrounded by our stories.” Detailed in her knowledge of setting, McGrath vividly invokes the frozen land, and her portrayals of the rugged people who cherish its beauty and bounty, especially Edie and Derek, ring true. 

A promising first installment in an upcoming series of arctic adventures.


Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02248-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2011


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