Head of Zeus | 2018 (1 November) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
One very cold December, just a few days before Christmas, the body of a young girl is pulled from an ice-bound lake in St Albans. Leigh Hoarde had been reported missing and this is the outcome that everybody dreaded. DCI Maarten Jansen and DI Imogen Deacon are at a loss. Their best lead comes from the dead girl’s neighbours, Jenny and Will Brennan. Will saw a suspicious car, which interests the police, but Jenny feels such a closeness to Leigh. She can sense her presence. She is drawn to the lake, she sleepwalks there at night, she can hear a voice calling for help, to save her. And when another girl goes missing, one even closer to Jenny, DCI Jansen begins to wonder if Jenny knows more than she’s saying and that perhaps she is not just an innocent witness.
I was immediately drawn to Under the Ice. I love mysteries set at the heart of winter, when there’s snow on the ground and the nights are long and nothing feels safe. In fact, I love wintry mysteries for the very reasons that I dislike winter! Just as appealing as the ice-cold setting is the location in St Albans – the first time I’ve read a novel set in this fascinating and ancient city.
Everything starts so gently. There’s a dreamlike mood which captures perfectly Jenny’s state of mind. She is a new mother, sleep-deprived and focused entirely on her little baby son. She’s extraordinarily sensitive to the grief the community is suffering as one girl is found dead and another is stolen. But, as the novel moves on, it becomes increasingly tense, disturbing, melancholic and intensely spellbinding. There’s much about the story that feels other worldly and that’s all thanks to the author’s genius in creating mood, intensifying it with the icey, dark weather and the approach of Christmas.
Rachael Blok is equally adept at creating character. We get to know Jenny so well and we feel such empathy for her. This is a fine portrait of a new mother, almost permanently physically attached to her helpless baby. The theme of mothers and daughters has such a powerful presence in these pages. But my favourite character in Under the Ice is Detective Chief Inspector Maarten Jansen, who has settled in England with his English family but he is being tempted back to Rotterdam. But he knows that his future depends on his success with this case. Maarten is a fascinating man. He has a past, as you’d expect, but it doesn’t overshadow him. Instead, Maarten’s focus is on his family, his colleagues and to the girls and their parents. He is warm, popular but there is no doubt that he’s struggling with this case. I really hope we see him again.
The plot is great! It’s full of twists and turns and surprises and it did indeed keep me guessing – quite a rarity, these days. I love how it all comes together. Richly atmospheric and moody with an intriguing, unusual detective and a haunted main character, it works itself under your skin and is beautifully written from start to finish. Rachael Blok is most definitely an author to watch.