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A WINTER GRAVE
by Peter May
Mobius, January 2023
368 pages
$28.00
ISBN: 1529428483


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

What can you expect from a Peter May novel? A rugged Scottish landscape, a dour detective with a troubled past, a plot that uses tangled family relationships to drive a pacey mystery, and epically bad weather. A WINTER GRAVE ticks all the boxes, and adds one that is unexpected: The story takes place in 2051, after the climate catastrophe, ignored for too long, has altered the landscape, inundating large parts of now-independent Scotland where water taxis ply the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow and it never seems to stop raining.

Detective Cameron Brodie is in a very dark mood. Not only has he been humiliated on the stand, when a sophisticated deepfake video contradicted CCTV footage critical to a case, he's just been told by his doctor that he has advanced cancer. He has only six months to live. When a case comes up that requires a trip to a remote western village, he decides to volunteer. As an avid hillclimber he has scaled most of Scotland's mountains, including the one where a missing investigative journalist's body has been discovered. More importantly, taking this assignment will give him a chance to try, once more, to reconcile with his daughter, a climate activist who discovered the reporter's frozen body in an ice cave when visiting a mountaintop weather station. She has long blamed Brodie for her mother's suicide, and he has things he wants to tell her before he dies.

Brodie needs to find out why the journalist was nosing around the massive nuclear plant located near the village and how he ended up frozen in the ice on a nearby mountain. Soon strange events add to the mystery: the recovered body vanishes from the hotel cooler where it's been stored, and that's just the start, requiring every ounce of Brodie's strength. His physical endurance is, at times, a bit superhuman, but his adventures give readers a bracing perspective as the tension ratchets up. More bodies will fall before the case is solved, and Brodie himself will confront death on a tighter schedule than his six-month prognosis.

This fast-paced mystery starts out dark and gloomy, but picks up energy as Brodie heads west, through wild weather, to the kind of setting that May has made his signature. The rugged and challenging landscape is used to good effect, balancing futuristic elements with the enduring power of the natural world. Those familiar with the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh will likely find the fast-forward fascinating (and disturbing) as May overlays a familiar map with sea-rise predictions, but apart from occasional explanations of how the world has changed, this is no dystopian tract; it's rather a conventional thriller embedded in an unusual and thought-provoking setting.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, December 2022

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