Today's Reading

'Will you be doing the post-mortem?' Konrád asked.

'Yes,' Svanhildur replied. 'I've been asked to examine him once the surrounding ice has melted and the body's thawed out. I won't be able to open him up until then. I expect his internal organs will be as well preserved as he is on the outside.' She paused. 'It must be a strange feeling for you to see him like this.'

'Did they fetch him down by helicopter?'

'No, they brought him in by road. They've been searching the area where he was found and I gather that'll continue for the next few days. Has no one from the police been in touch with you?'

'Not yet. I'm sure they will be tomorrow, though. Thanks for giving me a bell.'

'He's your man,' Svanhildur said. 'Beyond any doubt.'

'Yes, it's Sigurvin. It's weird seeing him like this after all these years, as if time had stood still.'

'While we've got older,' Svanhildur remarked, 'it's like he's got younger by the day.'

'It's a hell of a thing,' Konrád said quietly, as if to himself. 'Have you any idea how he died?'

'From what I could see as they were bringing him in, it looks like a possible blow to the head,' Svanhildur said, pointing. The man's head was largely free of the ice now and if one bent down, it was just possible to see what appeared to be wounds on the back of his skull.

'Was he killed on the glacier?'

'Hopefully that's one of the things we'll be able to work out.'

'Was he lying on his back like that when he was found?'

'Yes.'

'Isn't that a bit odd?'

'Every aspect of this case is odd,' Svanhildur said. 'As you should know better than anyone.'

'He doesn't seem to be dressed for a glacier trip.'

'No. What are you intending to do?'

'How do you mean?'

'Are you going to make yourself available to the investigation team or are you going to stay out of it?'

'They can take care of it,' Konrád said. 'I've retired. You should too.'

'I'd get bored,' Svanhildur said. She was divorced and said she sometimes dreaded the prospect of having to give up work. 'How are you, by the way?'

'Oh, you know. All right. If only I could sleep.'

They stood there in silence, watching the ice dripping from the body.

'Have you ever heard of the Franklin expedition?' Svanhildur asked suddenly, apropos of nothing.

'Franklin . . . ?'

'In the nineteenth century, the British sent out a lot of unsuccessful expeditions to look for the Northwest Passage through the sea ice north of Canada. The most famous of them was the Franklin expedition. Have you really never heard of it?'

'No.'

Svanhildur seemed pleased at this chance to relate the story. 'Franklin was a captain in the British navy,' she said. 'He
undertook the expedition with two ships but they became trapped in the ice and vanished along with everyone onboard. But, earlier in the voyage, three crew members had died and the expedition had stopped at an island to bury them in the permafrost before continuing on its way. About thirty years ago the graves of the three men were exhumed, and their bodies turned out to be so well preserved that they were able to provide rare evidence of conditions at sea in the nineteenth century. Analysis of the three men's remains confirmed one of the theories about the main problem affecting long voyages like the Franklin expedition, which often lasted at least two or three years. It was known that sailors on these voyages would often become weak and confused, then lie down and die for no apparent reason. There are countless painstakingly recorded instances of this phenomenon but scholars have disagreed about the reasons for the men's strange lethargy. One of the many theories is that it might have been caused by lead poisoning, and the bodies found in the permafrost supported this. When they were examined, they revealed elevated levels of lead, consistent with the method of preserving food that was pioneered during the nineteenth century: in other words, tinned food.'

Having finished her account, Svanhildur glanced down at the body again.

'It's just one of those fascinating anecdotes from the world of pathology,' she said. 'The ships carried extensive supplies of tinned food that were contaminated by the lead that leached into the contents from the seams round the lids.'

'Why are you telling me all this?' Konrád asked.

'Oh, just because I immediately thought of the Franklin expedition when they brought Sigurvin down from the glacier. He reminded me of the sailors found in the permafrost. It's like he died yesterday.'

Konrád stepped closer to the body and stared down at it for a long while, marvelling at the preservative powers of the ice.


This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia.
...

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...