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A body is found floating in the harbor of a rural Icelandic fishing village. Was it an accident, or something more sinister? Its up to Officer Gunnhildur, a sardonic female cop, to find out. Her investigation uncovers a web of corruption connected to Icelands business and banking communities. Meanwhile, a rookie crime journalist latches onto her, looking for a scoop, and an anonymous blogger is stirring up trouble. The complications increase, as do the stakes, when a second murder is committed. Frozen Assets is a piercing look at the endemic corruption that led to the global financial crisis that bankrupted Icelands major banks and sent the country into an economic tailspin from which it has yet to recover. A Note to Readers from Quentin Bates
Much of what became Frozen Assets took shape during Iceland's financial boom. Reykjavk prospered and the country's bankers were hailed as financial wonders who appeared to have dug up a whole cache of Philosopher's Stones.
Grumpy cynics had wondered when the bubble would burst, what would happen when all those private jets, limousines, and other status symbols had to be paid for. But the problem didn't lie solely with Iceland's nouveau riche maxing out credit cards on expensive toys. With banks frantically pushing bizarre dollar-euro-yen-franc loans at them, ordinary working families stockpiled luxury goods at a brisk clip.
I spent much of 2008 in Iceland. In January everything was normal, if you consider a super-heated economy and sky-high prices normal. By springtime things were less comfortable. The exchange rate had started to slide for the first time in years and although nothing was said out loud, it was common knowledge that the banks' coffers were bare. Business was starting to slow, despite the forest of cranes dotting the skyline. There was a nagging uncertainty that maybe the economic miracle wasn't quite as copper-bottomed as people had been told.
By summer, fear had permeated the society. Government and trade declared business as usual, but my friends and relatives all told me the same thing; behind the window-dressing, things were looking grim. Every working Joe knew something was brewing, without knowing what it was or when it would happen. Few people seriously believed the government was telling the whole truth.
For a few months in the summer I stayed away, working on Frozen Assets. My rotund heroine, Gunna, had already jumped onto the page with a frown on her face and taken on a life of her own.
Back in Iceland for an extended visit in October, I arrived on the day that the first of Iceland's hyper-inflated banks admitted that they'd been doing the equivalent of paying their Visa bills with Mastercard, and the government stepped in to help them out.
An old friend greeted me with the words, "Congratulate me on my bank."
"Havent you heard? Glitnir's been nationalized. It belongs to the taxpayer now--that's me."
People were stunned, not so much by the fact that the bank had failed, but at the sheer depth of the corruption, greed, and incompetence behind that failure. Somehow Icelanders have always been tacitly resigned to the corruption of those in power, but this was taking things to a new high. As a writer, I couldn't help but feel a guilty thrill. It was fantastic material. I knew I had to rewrite Frozen Assets so that the last chapters would coincide with the dramatic events of 2008.
Re-drafting Frozen Assets in the winter of 2008-09, I couldn't fathom the scale of what had happened, and even today, two years after the crash, new revelations are still coming to light.
Hopefully Frozen Assets captures the desperate atmosphere in Iceland as its economy skidded toward the rocks. Without question, the fallout in the aftermath of the crash will reverberate through the rest of the series, just as it will for the residents of Iceland for many years to come.