The first thing I check when I read books about or set in Iceland by foreign authors is the authenticity. Is the book based on thorough research? If not, I’m quick to dismiss it as unworthy of my attention.
Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath passed the test. He has obviously spent some time in Iceland and consulted various sources on the country and culture to write a credible crime novel.
There were only two minor things that an Icelandic proofreader should have picked up. Since details like these bug me, I’m going to point them out:
Firstly, if your mother’s name is Audur, your surname is Audardóttir, not Audarsdóttir, and secondly, if you’re a North American of Icelandic descent, you would be known as a Vestur-Íslendingur in Iceland, and not a vestur-íslenskur, which is the adjective of the word.
There, now that I’ve got that off my chest I can say that Ridpath pleased me in writing an authentic novel about Iceland, referencing legends and myths in the storyline without making them too dominant or stereotyping Icelanders but instead creating a range of believable characters.
That said, the main character, Magnus Jonson (or Magnús Ragnarsson while in Iceland), an Icelandic-born American cop, did strike me as stereotypical.
It felt as if he had jumped straight out of an American drama series or film where the main character is a tough cop of a tough background who fights his demons with every bad guy he nails.
Sentences such as: “There are two things that a cop hates more than anything else. One is a crooked cop. Another is a cop who rats on one of his colleagues,” seem a little too cliché to be worthy of an otherwise original crime story.
I’m not sure why Ridpath, who is British, would include the American connection. To me, it didn’t appear to be such an important aspect of the plot—Magnus might just as well have been an Icelandic expat working for Scotland Yard.
Of course Ridpath may have researched the American part of the story and I cannot comment on its authenticity, but I had the feeling he just watched a few American police shows before outlining Magnus’s personality and his background as a Boston cop under witness protection.
While the washed-out American connection turned me off a bit, Ridpath did catch my attention with the murder in Iceland that Magnus helps to investigate, which ends up having links to a long lost Icelandic saga—a saga which actually did exist but whose manuscript was never found.
Ridpath also makes a link to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which I found interesting, especially in regard to the two Lord of the Rings fanatics who get tangled in the investigation, although at times I found he leaned a bit too heavily on Tolkien and his work.
In one instance I also wondered whether Ridpath had borrowed from Arnaldur Indridason, Iceland’s uncrowned king of crime, as the opening scene at Lake Thingvellir had some similarities to Indridason’s Hypothermia, but that may have been coincidental.
On the book’s cover, there’s a quote from a Guardian review saying: “Ridpath has that read-on factor that sets bestsellers apart,” and that is something I can agree with, although he didn’t exactly keep me glued to the pages.
However, Ridpath made up for the aspects of the storyline that I found unconvincing or unnecessary and the rather one-dimensional main character by maintaining my interest in the plot—I did want to read until the end.
Also, I must give him credit for treating my country respectfully and reasonably in his book; I wouldn’t be surprised if more people became interested in visiting Iceland because of it.
Overall, this is a decent and partly original thriller that is easy to read; a good pick for commuters or for those who have crawled in between the covers at night and just want to read a chapter or two before dozing off.
Where the Shadows Lie is available on Amazon.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir