The Frozen Dead – Bernard Minier

A French bestseller, wonderfully translated by Alison Anderson, this is the author’s debut novel, being a thoroughly decent crime tale, featuring several interesting characters – one of them a Hannibal Lecter type – set in the small Pyrenean town of Saint-Martin-de-Comminges, and the surrounding area. There happens to be a cable car, and a high security lunatic asylum (he Charles Wargnier Institute for Forensic Psychiatry) in the vicinity. Both are central to the story, but more central is Commandant Servaz, the policeman from Toulouse called in to investigate the brutal, troubling, killing of a horse. Yes, you read that right. It starts off with a horse killing.

From that unlikely beginning, the author spins a complex tale that slowly builds up a head of steam. Servaz and his crew are well drawn characters, sharing the limelight with the backdrop setting.

At the asylum, Dr Wargnier has been replaced by the  slimy Dr Xavier. Dr Diane Berg, a newly recruited psychiatrist there, is given a rather cold, unfriendly, and troubling welcome by him at her new place of work. And then there are the batch of highly dangerous criminals incarcerated in the place. The other points of interest include the mega rich man of business, Eric Lombard, owner of the locally situated riding school (from where the horse was taken) and chateau.

It’s a sort of cocktail mix of haunted castle, Silence of the Lambs, and defective detective. And, in the main, it works quite well.

Of course, the horse is not the first to die, and Servaz – ever under pressure from his bosses, given Lombard’s connections – is in a race against time to solve the baffling clues, and track down the killer.

There are some moments of true spine chilling horror, and quite enough plot twists, red herrings, and surprises.

I enjoyed the book, though some may complain it was unnecessarily long. I didn’t see it that way, because the pacing seemed appropriate, and the combined effect of what the author has produced worked well for me. Also, it came across as somewhat different in its tone and its perspective, and it stood out from the crowd. I would recommend it. And I will be following the author to see what he does with the characters.