Where the Shadows Lie, by Michael Ridpath


WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE is an exciting, readable and solid thriller. Magnus Jonson is a young Icelandic-American policeman in Boston who has reported one of his colleagues for taking kickbacks. The colleague is now awaiting trial but refuses to talk. A violent attack on Magnus as he goes to investigate a street incident provides the reason for this silence: if Magnus is killed then there will be no witness, and no evidence, to convict. In order to protect him, Magnus's superiors take advantage of a coincidental request from the Icelandic police to send him there on secondment.


Iceland is a stranger to gun crime, but in the past year a triple murder that could have been solved before it escalated has made the police commissioner realise that his country's law enforcement system needs to learn from outside – from a place where shooting and killing is more the norm. As Magnus is Icelandic and so speaks the language, yet left the country to settle in the USA when a teenager so has plenty of experience of police work on the coalface of violent crime, he is the obvious choice.

When he gets to Iceland, Magnus is told that he will have to enrol in the police academy for a year to learn the country's laws and police rules of operation. This plan is jettisoned immediately, though, because coincident with Magnus's arrival a murder is committed in one of the holiday houses alongside Lake Thingvellir. I don't want to say anything about this case because to reveal much would be to spoil the exciting plot, but suffice it to say that a person who seems to be implicated is called Isildur, and the first task of the police is to find this person. (If the name Isildur ‘rings' a bell with you, this will suffice as a hint about the theme of the upcoming investigation!)

What follows is a great adventure as Magnus gets stuck into the case and rediscovers the Iceland he knew as a child. He makes some friends and some enemies within the local police, as he's rather brash and overconfident as well as being a committed and good police officer. He's also in hiding from his pursuers in the USA, who are seeking to find him by terrorising his friends and family into revealing his whereabouts. But the main joy of the novel is the author's evident love for this fascinating country – the great sagas and their influence down the generations; the way people are being forced to deal with the recent credit crunch; volcanic threats (though the novel was written before the current eruption); and indeed Magnus's suspicions and discoveries about his own past, which no doubt will come more to the fore in subsequent novels (this one is first of a series). Relationships and tensions between the police officers will also no doubt be developed in future now that we have got to know a few of them.

The Iceland of WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE is not the Iceland of Arnaldur Indridason or Yrsa Sigurdardottir, but the semi-outside view as we share Magnus's reaction to the history, geography and society of this fascinating land is complementary to these excellent books by Icelandic authors. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Michael Ridpath's fast-paced book, his inventive take on the old Icelandic sagas, and the whole concept. I welcome a great new entry into the crime-fiction scene.

Review first published at Euro Crime, July 2010.

This entry was posted in Books, Crime fiction, England, Eurocrime, Iceland, Police procedural, Thriller and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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