Who else enjoys foreign mysteries?  Spanish, Swedish, British, Italian, & more…there’re some great reads out there, historical and contemporary.  My only prior experience with a French detective or mystery series was Maigret until THE FROZEN DEAD.  This debut mystery/thriller has taken France by storm.  Do you like international reads too?  If so you may want to add THE FROZEN DEAD to your list.

the frozen dead

Saint-Martin-de-Comminges is a small town nestled in the French Pyrenees. The kind of place where winters are harsh and unforgiving and where nothing ever happens.

Until the winter morning when a group of workers discover the headless, flayed body of a horse, hanging suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff.

On the same day the gruesome discovery takes place, Diane Berg, a young psychiatrist starts her first job at a high-security asylum for the criminally insane, just a few miles away. She is baffled by the slightly unorthodox methods the asylum’s director uses, and then greatly alarmed when she realizes that drugs are disappearing from within the fortified institution while someone seems to be slipping out at night.

Commandant Martin Servaz, a charismatic city cop from nearby Toulouse fond of quoting Latin, can’t believe he has been called out over the death of an animal. But there’s something disturbing about this crime that he can’t ignore. Then DNA from one of the most notorious inmates of the asylum, a highly intelligent former prosecutor, accused of killing and raping several women, is found on the horse carcass . . . and a few days later the first human murder takes place. A dark story of madness and revenge seems to be unfolding.Servaz and his colleague, the mysterious Irene Ziegler, must use all their skill to solve the terrifying mystery and best one of the most fiendish and clever opponents they could ever imagine. Synopsis from Amazon listing.

 

THE FROZEN DEAD is a compulsively readable mystery/thriller with an alluring lead investigator in Commandant Martin Servaz of Toulouse.

Martin is dogged, clever, thinks out of the box, and isn’t afraid to take intuitive leaps.  He’s also a divorced workaholic on the cusp of forty with a seventeen year old daughter, Margot, and a penchant for quoting maxims in Latin.

His team consists of seven, six men and one woman.  Martin’s bright young things are his assistant Vincent Esperandieu, and new recruit Samira Cheung.

Vincent is married with a five year old daughter, is a bit of a hypochondriac, Manga fan, tech geek.  With his voice, taste in clothing, and mannerisms many suspect him of being bisexual which has caused him some difficulty on the squad.

Charlene is Vincent’s stunningly beautiful wife; art gallery owner and seven months pregnant with their second child.  They’ve asked Martin to be the baby’s god-father.

Samira is the product of a Chinese father and French-Moroccan mother.  Samira is a whip smart odd duck who plays up her uniqueness with her dress and manner.

Captain Irene Ziegler of the gendarmerie is Martin’s fellow investigator on the case.  Irene, with her tall good looks, motorcycle (even in the winter), and sporty life style is often described as an Amazon.  She’s also intelligent and as determined to solve the case as Martin.

Catherine D’Humieres is the public prosecutor for Saint-Martin.  Brilliant, ambitious, and intimidating, Catherine and Martin have worked together before.  She thinks highly of his skills and respects him.

Diane Berg A Swiss forensic psychologist who begins her position at Wargnier Psychiatric Institute just as events start.  The Wargnier Institute is unique in Europe; aggressive and psychopathic, those considered the most dangerous murderers in Europe are housed here.

The Pyrenees-Comminges region is isolated, insular, starkly beautiful, and forbidding.  It’s also the perfect setting to give readers the heebie jeebies.

There are many more characters but for me these were the primary ones and/or those most likely to return.

The mystery, the characters, and the setting all combined to keep me glued, guessing, and tense.  However, there were a few problems I have to mention.

The beginning felt stiff, the translation or my need to shift gears?  Either way it took a bit to get into but once it happened I was a goner.

Unresolved sub-plots.  There were some fairly prominent issues left unresolved leaving a mild dissatisfaction.  Are readers to presume each situations conclusion by their last mention?  Will they appear and be closed in the next book?  Who knows and that’s my problem.

The attention and time given to a specific character.  Was this in preparation for a future book?   It makes sense because otherwise it’s too much once it’s all said and done unless there is an ulterior reason.

It’s looonnngggg.  Judicious editing could have whittled it down a bit without affecting the integrity.

THE FROZEN DEAD is compulsively readable with interesting characters and a labyrinthine mystery sure to keep readers speculating and on edge.  Esperandieu is to be thanked for introducing me to some new musicians, in particular the song he listens to in the epilogue.  The private lives of the major characters become just as engrossing as the mystery adding to their believability; no cookie cut-outs here.

The epilogue has served its purpose, leaving me extremely curious and looking forward to Martin and his team’s next outing.

 

4 stars

 

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