Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Broken Ice

Broken Ice
by Matt Goldman
Recommended Ages: 14+

I actually met Matt Goldman in person, at an author fest in the town where I write for the newspaper. I had a little chat with him, quoted him in my story, and got him to autograph a copy of this book – the sequel to Gone to Dust and, with the recent publication of The Shallows, the second of three Nils Shapiro mysteries. It was neat to get to meet an author whose work I have enjoyed, and even ask him questions like "Is Nils you?" (He said no, but Nils has a lot of his attitude and his way of thinking about things.) But an even bigger payoff was getting another Minnesota-based mystery involving the wisecracking, lonely, Nordic/Jewish private detective whose dialogue comes from the mind of an Emmy-winning sitcom writer.

Since the previous novel, ex-Minneapolis cop Nils has joined his suburban police buddy Anders "Ellie" Ellegaard to start a P.I. firm. Soon after a couple from the remote town of Warroad hires them to find their missing daughter amid the madness of the state high school basketball championship, another girl from the same school is found dead in a cave under downtown St. Paul. That something could happen to two girls from the same small town at the same time seems unlikely to be a coincidence. Nils is especially convinced of this when he goes to look at the second girl's body and gets hit in the shoulder by an arrow. A couple more bodies drop – shot by identical arrows – making the connection even harder to miss. The deeper he is drawn into the mystery, the crazier it becomes – and the more danger Nils finds himself in.

One takeaway from this novel, still lingering in the back of my mind as I write this way too long after reading it, is a depressing reflection on the way today's parenting styles and other current influences on kids' character development seem to promote the growth of young sociopaths. Case in point: Linnea Engstrom, a teenager who blithely sows tragedy in the lives around her, and who (up to a point) doesn't seem concerned about the consequences of her choices. Nils feels concerned, though, absorbing a lot of sorrow and guilt while he solves the crime (or rather, crimes) with only grudging cooperation from law enforcement, takes a physical and emotional beating, and sees all his personal relationships tested to their breaking point. It's as if he takes on the hurt that other people should feel about the wrongs in his world.

I like Nils. I like his smart mouth and his swift mind. I feel for his tortured soul. And though sometimes I thought the energy level of this book dropped a little compared to his first outing, it left me hopeful that I had my hands on the second book of an enduring and worthwhile detective series.

In my chat with Goldman, he said he has fallen in love with the book world and has other novels in progress, including (I think) a couple that are all written but aren't published yet. I believe one of these will turn out to be another Nils Goldman novel, which is good news to me. His blend of humor, danger and intrigue, combined with his evident love of Minnesota rediscovered after spending years away – a development I am experiencing in parallel – make them seem like a gift to me personally. His books are not just good entertainment. They have an intelligence and emotional insight that deepens the pleasure of reading them.

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