Martin Servaz is not happy to be called out to the remote village of Saint-Martin-des-Comminges when a mutilated body is discovered at the local hydroelectric plant. He’s even less happy when he finds out that everyone’s been scrambled for a horse. The man who owns the horse is rich and connected and Servaz resents being taken away from what he considers a real case to deal with it. Meanwhile. Dr. Diane Berg has just arrived to take up her post at the Wargnier Institute (just outside of Saint-Martin) for patients who are so violent and unbalanced that no one else can handle them. There seems to be no link between the two characters until crime scene analysts find DNA from one of the most dangerous men in Wargnier. The Frozen Dead, by Bernard Minier, follows two paths. Servaz investigates from outside the Institute and Berg follows the clues inside the disturbing prison hospital.
After the horse was killed and mutilated, a local pharmacist is found hanging from a bridge. Then Servaz receives an unusual tip from Julian Hirtmann, whose DNA was found at the first crime scene. Hirtmann reminded me strongly of Hannibal Lecter. He’s an urbane Swiss serial murderer who knows much more than he lets on. He drops hints to the investigators to get them on the right track. He and Berg also seem to develop a Lecter and Starling-like rapport. Servaz has his own source of information: a former investigating judge who seems to know everyone’s secrets. Though both investigators have help, neither source is too forthcoming. Berg starts to dig through the paper work at Wargnier. Servaz has forensics, old crime scenes, and his own ability to make connections. Nothing is easy for either character.
Most mysteries I’ve read are very focused. They center on the lead investigator, so closely that it seems you’re riding the detective’s shoulder as he or she figures out what’s going on. In comparison, The Frozen Dead is a diffuse book. In addition to following Servaz and Berg, we also spend time with Servaz assistant. And instead of just focusing on the main crimes, Servaz is also trying to figure out what’s going on with his daughter’s mood changes and criminal complaints against the victims from decades past. Meanwhile, Diane is also investigating the unusual and possibly illegal “treatments” at Wargnier. She’s been told that the men in the Institute are often resistant to psychoactive drugs. Patients are being prescribed doses that would knock out large barnyard animals. But that’s nothing compared to the “treatment” for the men in Unit A: electroshock without anesthesia.
At times, The Frozen Dead feels overstuffed, but the chaos around Servaz and Berg creates an atmosphere of confusion and urgency that make the book feel much closer to reality than its companions in the genre. Minier is skilled at bringing the disparate parts of The Frozen Dead together. Though his main investigators don’t meet until near the very end of the book, I wasn’t frustrated. I was too interested in trying to put the pieces together myself.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.