Ridpath, Michael – ‘Meltwater’
Hardback: 320 pages (June 2012) Publisher: Atlantic Books ISBN: 085789644X
The third in this author’s Fire and Ice series, set in Iceland, is as fast and packed with incident as the first two books, WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE and 66 DEGREES NORTH. MELTWATER is set in 2010, marrying two topical themes of that year: a Wikileaks meeting in Reykjavik and the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, into a fictional account of international politics and intrigue.
Freeflow, the fictional version of Wikileaks, is an organisation dedicated to sharing knowledge that governments and others want to keep secret. In this case, someone has sent the group a video of an apparent massacre of UN observers by Israeli troops (in real life it was the killing of journalists in Iraq). The key members meet in Iceland to authenticate the video, organise a press conference and upload it to the Internet in suitably edited form. While waiting for everyone to turn up, the team visits Fimmvordnhals, a grumbling volcano south of Reykjavik in the same region as Eyjafjallajokull. While they are there, one of them is killed.
Magnus Ragnarsson (or Jonson in his American persona) is the police detective in charge of the investigation into the death, whose biography to date has been revealed in the previous books. He’s frustrated by the lack of cooperation of the Freeflow group, who don’t want to reveal to him what they are working on, or indeed anything. The arrogant but not unlikeable Magnus has plenty of leads based on previous revelations by Freeflow, which he and his team energetically follow up, gradually gaining the confidence of at least one of the leakers. Both the police and the Freeflow team are directly affected by the sudden eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, which brings danger to the somewhat reckless Magnus and challenges to the Freeflow team who are depending on international air travel to complete their authentication of the video and to hold their international press conference.
This main plot of the novel can be read without any knowledge of the previous books. In parallel with it, however, is Magnus’s ongoing investigation into his father’s death, which is here progressed in two significant ways, but which is left unresolved until (presumably) the fourth book in the quartet. It is in these sections that the author’s love for Iceland is most evident, with its fascinating depictions of the literature and cultural heritage of the country.
MELTWATER is a readable, exciting thriller, packed with events, but stronger on action than characterisation. The culmination of the Freeflow plot is a bit disappointing, with some of the ethical issues raised during the course of the investigation being dropped at the resolution of the crime case. But those looking for an exhilarating yet light read with a difference – provided by the Icelandic setting – will be well satisfied by this book.