Review: Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath

I have my reading fairy godmother to thank for my copy of this book and even though Ridpath is not a native Iclelander I am counting the book towards the Nordic Reading challenge as it takes place in Iceland and discusses an interesting aspect of the country’s history.

Magnus Jonson is a Boston cop who took the unusual step of reporting one of his colleagues for accepting payment to destroy evidence in a gang killing. Since then the gang leader has been trying to silence Magnus for good as he is the only witness in the case. After he and his girlfriend are nearly killed, Magnus’ boss tells him about a request from Iceland’s police authorities to have an American policeman advise them as their country starts to experience similar crimes to those which have been common in the US for years. As Magnus was born in Iceland and speaks the language he is the ideal candidate for the assignment and it is hoped it will put him out of reach of the gang until the case can be brought to trial. In Iceland Magnus’ first case is the investigation of the murder of a Professor of Icelandic literature who appears to have been killed due to his knowledge of the whereabouts of a written version of a previously secret ancient Icelandic saga which was the basis for one of the English speaking world’s most famous literary works.

Ridpath has created a very believable and enjoyable novel here about a man who feels like an outsider no matter where he is. Although he has lived in the US since he was 12 Magnus doesn’t fit in with the Boston Police anymore because he has reported his colleague and that’s just not the done thing (a sentiment I will never understand no matter how many times I see it depicted). And though he was born in Iceland he doesn’t quite fit in there either. He can’t be a ‘proper’ policeman until he does some study but even then he won’t be able to carry a gun (police in Iceland don’t) and many of the local cops aren’t thrilled to have an American telling them what do do. I really found myself feeling quite sorry for Magnus, especially as all this was followed up by learning some unpleasant things about his own family that meant his personal history wasn’t what he’d been led to believe either. No wonder the man went on a bender.

This is all set against a great backdrop of the country itself which is revealed differently to the way a native writer would do so but it is equally engaging. The adventure surrounding the saga is compelling, involving both outsiders desperate to own the written version as well as the current descendants of the original creators of the saga who have been impacted by their family’s role in the saga for generations. Involving elements of myth and legend this could have become a really corny plot line but was handled intelligently and very credibly. More general aspects of modern Iceland are also displayed thoughtfully including the country’s current financial woes and attitudes to foreigners of various kinds. The range of reactions to Magnus joining the local police, from outright hostility to near sycophancy, had a realistic feel as well.

I’m always a little wary of books written by people who don’t live in or have extensive experience of their setting but Ridpath’s love for the country is palpable and infectious. He has created an intriguing protagonist and an entertaining series debut. He has also left much scope to explore both the characters’ histories and the country in future installments of the series which I very much look forward to reading.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Where the Shadows Lie has been reviewed at Euro Crime (and a couple of other places too but they give away more of the plot than I would have liked to know before embarking on the novel so I’m not linking to them).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5
Author website
Publisher Corvus Books [2010]
ISBN 9781848873988
Length 344 pages
Format trade paperback
Book Series #1 in the Fire and Ice series
Source a gift

This entry was posted in book review, Iceland, Michael Ridpath, Nordic Challenge 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Review: Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for your excellent review, as always. I’m very glad you enjoyed this one. It is interesting, isn’t it, how Iceland’s portrayed differently here from the way it’s portrayed, for instance, in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s work. I also find interesting touch of “fish out of water” that there is here. It adds, as you say, a dose of realism to the plot. You’ve really hit on the the things that work in this book.


  2. Maxine says:

    So glad you liked this one, Bernadette, as I don’t want to be adjusted from fairy godmother to wicked godmother! I enjoyed this brisk novel too, and although I think Magnus needs a bit of development as a character, I think that will happen and I look forward to future volumes. I really enjoyed reading your review, it is fun to read a review of a book one has read (and can actually remember most of!).


  3. Dorte H says:

    A book that you AND Maxine liked?

    I just can´t afford reading certain people´s blogs.

    Well, he is on my list – for a brighter future when I have space on the shelf again.


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