It’s safe to say that few of us will travel to the Arctic Circle in our lifetime.
That being the case, British writer M. J. McGrath’s new mystery novel “The Bone Seeker” should be intriguing from the word go, since it’s set on Ellesmere Island, home of the northern-most permanently-inhabited settlement in the world. And while the novel offers excitement — a fascinating setting, a gruesome murder — the dense prose makes the book as inaccessible as Ellesmere itself.
When Edie Kiglatuk’s favorite student is found murdered, her body defiled, Edie joins forces with Sergeant Derek Palliser to search for answers. They turn their attention to a nearby military base while also carefully pursuing leads in their close-knit community. Meanwhile, lawyer Sonia Gutierrez is drawn towards the location of the student’s body: Lake Turngaluk, known as the Lake of Bad Spirits. Gutierrez believes the polluted lake is the result of a nuclear disaster and is determined to uncover the truth, no matter the cost.
While the dual plotlines are great in theory, Gutierrez’s story seems to exist only to showcase McGrath’s research ability, making for some overly-academic passages.
And while the two plotlines come together nicely in the end, most readers may not get that far: The first 50 pages are a dense slog of characters, backstories, geographies and native history, making it extremely difficult to follow the narrative or connect with the characters. Sentences like: “Near Jakeman Glacier they flew over a silvery cord of narwhal making their way west towards Hell Gate,” do nothing to further the story, and mean little to those of us living outside the Arctic Circle. A map of Ellesmere Island would have been helpful to say the least.
McGrath is clearly enamored with Ellesmere Island. But she needs to work a bit harder to make the story — and the environment — accessible to all readers.