Written by Michael Ridpath — This is Scandinavian crime fiction with a difference. The author happens to be a Brit, and Where the Shadows Lie is the first in his Fire & Ice series. What makes it even more intriguing is the fact that he has decided to throw an Icelandic saga and a hint of JRR Tolkein into the mixing pot. As such, it’s a book that instantly raises curiosity. But does it work?
Magnus Jonson is Icelandic by birth, but has lived most of his life in the United States, having moved there with his father and brother following the death of his mother. Now a detective in the Boston Police Department, he’s got himself involved in a situation with a Boston gang and has to be sent back to the land of his birth as part of a witness protection programme. However, this is no holiday, and what he thinks is a temporary secondment to the Reykjavik Police Department turns into the complex hunt for a killer.
The body of an Icelandic literature professor has been found in the lake outside his holiday house. Initially it’s believed to be a case of accidental drowning until forensic analysis reveals he was actually bludgeoned to death. The motive for his killing seems to be linked to his recent translation of a well-hidden Icelandic saga, which may have formed the basis of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.
With an array of suspects ranging from the manuscript’s owners and a country pastor, to a couple of Tolkein fans who are on a treasure hunt for ‘the one ring’, our protagonist and his colleagues must sift between fact and fiction. Meanwhile, someone is looking for Magnus and it’s not long before he finds that his own problems may be about to catch up with him. Can he solve the case and escape the hitman who’s been contracted to silence him?
Where the Shadows lie is well-written and easy to read with descriptions of the desolate Icelandic landscapes making it easy for the reader to visualise. As a character, Magnus is someone you’ll find yourself rooting for one minute and then frustrated by the next. He’s a good detective but slightly unreliable where women and alcohol are involved, which can only spell trouble. Viewed by his new colleagues with a certain degree of awe, especially his partner Arni, his theories and risk-taking bring him into conflict with his new boss and make him appear more reckless than he really is.
So, did it work? Well, if you’re not a fan of Icelandic sagas or The Lord of the Rings, you may be wondering whether this book is really for you. Our advice is to give it a go; it’s an excellent book. Ridpath weaves both of these ideas through his story so skilfully that you find yourself becoming engrossed rather than overwhelmed.
CFL Rating: 5