Review: Shelter Me is an exciting, visceral, pacy thriller
Shelter Me is a compelling, intricately plotted novel that moves ingeniously across time and location. In the opening chapter we are plunged into Inuit life with a description of a young girl accompanying her father on a hunting expedition, during which a musk ox is slaughtered. Immediately afterwards, and in startling contrast, we are following an unsuccessful UK operation to trap two paedophiles. Both these episodes happen in 1997 and ominously foreshadow events that then take place in the present day and form the substance of the tale, beginning with the inexplicable murder of two small boys by their apparently loving father and moving swiftly to the mysterious disappearances of young Inuit women in Greenland.
Shelter Me is the last in Rob Gittins Trilogy that began in 2013 with Gimme Shelter and was followed by Secret Shelter in 2015. The books trace the history of enigmatic Witness Protection Officer, Ros Gilet, whose violent childhood took her into the Protection system as a victim and has led her subsequently into entering the service herself, although in this last novel she finds herself working in the Murder Squad with DCI Masters, whose anger-fuelled working methods sometimes lead him into the kind of behaviour for which “unorthodox” would be an euphemism. Masters and Gilet are both arresting characters, with enough charisma to keep the novel afloat and a vividly drawn supporting cast.
The other protagonist in this novel is surely Greenland with its astonishing landscape, history and culture. I was entranced by the evocative descriptions of the snow and sea, the icebergs and bird and animal life. Gittins has done his research but wears it lightly, conjuring a strange and alien world in which isolation, alcoholism and imminent violence hover menacingly in the coastal mists. In addition, a central tenet of the novel is Greenland’s idiosyncratic Arctic Peace model, which emphasises the reintegration of the perpetrator into the life of the community rather than punishment, a model that bends towards leniency and is, it is suggested, perhaps ill- equipped to deal with really violent crime.
Having not read the earlier novels, I was concerned that I might find myself at a loss in this culminant saga, but the narrative threads are skilfully entwined and there is enough information about previous events and relationships to keep the reader on track, without it being heavily expositional. Nevertheless, the plot is complex and convoluted, enticingly so, and the unexpected twists and surprising revelations need to be followed with the brain in gear; it is only in the last section of the novel that the necessity to confront each of the key characters with their particular nemesis creates a breathless, helter-skelter pace. Is the writer able to get everyone to the finishing line in a satisfactory way? Astonishingly the answer is yes, although – one small quibble, there is a sleight of watery action in the denouement for which I would have welcomed some kind of explanation, however unlikely.
Despite an occasional predilection for the lurid, Rob Gittins demonstrates mastery of his genre, consummate skill at creating a range of colourful characters and an admirable ability to handle labyrinthine plotting with confidence. He allows himself the occasional flourish, as when Masters unexpectedly delivers a lecture on Cicero, but there is no doubt that he is always in control.
Highly recommended for all lovers of exciting, visceral, pacy thrillers.
Shelter Me is published by Y Lolfa and can be purchased here.