Fresh Blood

Name: Rachael Blok

Title of Book: Under the Ice

'...I swear frost was forming on my fingers as I held this book to the end. '

It is the week before Christmas and the cathedral city of St Albans is blanketed by snow. But beneath the festive lights, darkness is stirring. The frozen body of a young girl is discovered by the ice-covered lake.

The police scramble for clues. A local woman, Jenny, has had visions of what happened the night of the murder. But Jenny is an exhausted new mother, whose midnight wanderings pull her ever closer to the lake. Can Jenny be trusted? What does she really know?

Then another girl goes missing, and the community unravels. Neighbour turns against neighbour, and Jenny has no idea who to believe. As Christmas Eve approaches, Jenny discovers a secret about her past – and why she could be key to everything...

'Under the Ice' is a creepy Christmas tale full of murder and the supernatural. Blok wonderfully invokes the dense darkness of winter contrasted against the glow and purity of the constant falling virginal white snow. In this winter wonderland, evil stalks the idyllic landscape.

Jenny is tired, very tired. Even in exhaustion, her body doesn’t seem to be able to calm itself as she seems to be sleepwalking at night. There are the voices she can hear and why does she seem to be able to find clues the police have missed? Is she part of the case? Are the voices supernatural, or are they part of her exhaustion? Blok creates this opaque view of Jenny, so you cannot entirely make out who she really is. Is Jenny simply a mother who has stumbled in to this case of the murdered girl, or is there more to her involvement? Blok keeps her reader guessing right until the very end, but even then, not everything can be fully explained.

For me, the best character here is Maarten Jansen, the detective heading this case. I loved the way he is fully rounded with his family and his own insecurities. There is also much of his past that hasn’t been explained which I hope will surface in subsequent novels. Blok’s writing is very persuasive and entices you to read on, the short sharp chapters towards the end adding to the momentum and the race to find the killer.

‘Under the Ice’ is a very exciting debut, with a great sense of place. Both Jenny and Maarten’s emotions and confusion bring the characters alive. I was spellbound by this chilling read and I swear frost was forming on my fingers as I held this book to the end. A truly remarkable debut and one that will have you reaching for the blanket as you read on your sofa!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) A week before Christmas a murder shatters the festive cheer of St. Albans. Why did you choose St. Albans as your setting and why at Christmas?
St. Albans is a beautiful city full of Roman ruins and a huge park that used to be a Roman settlement. The cathedral overlooks the park and, covered in snow, it’s magical and haunting. Jenny, in ‘Under The Ice’, is struggling with something from her past. This city, with its own layered beauty and history, seemed the perfect setting.

I remember pushing a buggy around St Albans a few years ago with my own baby, and it was a magical setting. I think that stayed with me.
2) Jenny has just given birth to her son, Finn and gets caught up in the case. Why did you make Jenny central to your novel?
I wanted to write about a mother struggling with a young baby. I think the fog of sleeplessness, and the sense of dislocation Jenny experiences, makes a very interesting character – together with something else she is struggling with that she doesn’t understand, it makes it hard for the reader to be certain of anything with her.

I also liked the idea of exploring a character struggling with their emotions, alongside a character who struggles with ideas in the novel. Jenny and Maarten Jansen seemed to fit together very well.
3) There is a sense of the supernatural to ‘Under the Ice’. With the coldness of the scenery and atmosphere, did it add another chilling layer to your story?
I hope it did. Yes, the cathedral at Christmas time, with the Midnight Mass scenes and the coldness of the park and the lake, allows a touch of the Gothic to enter the novel. It’s a novel where the usual landscape has been transformed by the weather into something unnerving, making possible belief in things you might not normally believe in. I think we’re all willing to suspend our disbelief around Christmas time, more so than at other times of the year.
4) You combine the fragility of Jenny’s mental state with the police procedural headed by Maarten Jansen, who I really liked. Will we be hearing more of DCI Jansen in the future?
The second novel in the series is coming out November 2019. It is set in a village just outside of St Albans, during a heatwave, and Maarten Jansen is in charge of the case. Jenny won’t be in it though – her story is complete in the first novel. There will be new characters entangled in the second case. The next novel peeps into Maarten’s life a little more and brings some fresh challenges for him.
5) Your chapters, especially towards the end, are sometimes only a page or even simply a paragraph long. Why did you employ this short form in your writing?
I think as a reader, and as a writer, if you’re racing to the climax of a story then short, snappy viewpoints can be very effective. There are two points of view in Under The Ice, and at the close, flitting between both quickly allows pace and excitement – something I was hoping to create at the end of the novel.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I love crime fiction. I grew up with the crimes of Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell and PD James. I currently love Susie Steiner and Jane Harper. If I had to choose three novels for a desert island then I’d take ’The Body in the Library’ (Agatha Christie), ’A Certain Justice’ (PD James) and I’m half way through ‘The Lost Man’ (Jane Harper), so I have to take that if just to work out who did it!