The Frozen Dead (2011), by French author Bernard Minier, was recommended to me by the same individual who recommended The Axeman’s Jazz. Having thoroughly enjoyed the latter, I had high hopes therefore for The Frozen Dead.
We find ourselves in a small village in the Pyrenees, which just so happens to be located in close proximity to an asylum housing France’s most dangerous criminals. Our first victim is a horse, whose method of death was decapitation. So far, so gruesome. The horse’s owner is one Eric Lombard, one of France’s wealthiest and well connected individuals, which means that the police are throwing all the resource they can at solving the case. Enter our protagonist-in-chief, Commandant Servaz, who, while vexed at being called out to investigate the death of an animal, suspects that there is more at hand than might first appear. Servaz’s hunch is, as you’d expect, proved right. DNA is found at the crime scene belonging to one of the inmates of the asylum, Julian Hirtmann, a Hannibal Lecter-type and former prosecutor. Moreover, other bodies (human this time) start turning up, or, more accurately, hanging down…
I’ll get right to it and say that I really enjoyed The Frozen Dead (TFD). Commandant Martin Servaz, with whom we spend most of our time, is a likeable and engaging character. He’s not a super-cop, just a regular detective who’s very good at his job, similar in a way to Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus but with a lot less attitude. We also spend time with Diane Berg, a psychiatrist who arrives at the asylum the same day the murdered horse is discovered. Like Servaz, Berg begins to have suspicions of her own and conducts her own informal investigation from within the asylum. While important to the plot as a whole, I found this subplot a little distracting and drawn out. The book has plenty of other characters, all of whom are perfectly serviceable but perhaps a little two-dimensional. That being said, it left me wanting to find out more about them and I’d hope to meet some of the characters again.
If you enjoy thrillers with lots of twists, turns, and red herrings then TFD has plenty to offer. Some events, including the denouement, are a little over the top but perhaps this is to be expected in the first of any series of novels. But there’s a good balance between these events and the good old fashioned investigative work that makes the reader feel part of the investigation.
Despite its 478 pages, which could easily be trimmed, I whizzed through TFD and recommend it. At the time of writing the Commandant Servaz series is up to five books and I certainly plan on reading the second installment.