Ring of Destruction
Where the Shadows Lie
A novel by Michael Ridpath
Minotaur Books, New York, 2010
Scandinavian crime fiction is so hot these days that it is little wonder that non-native writers would want a piece of the action. Michael Ridpath is a Londoner who started his literary career writing financial thrillers; this is his first "Magnus Jonson" detective novel. Magnus is a native Icelander who had moved to Boston while in his teens and where his father was murdered. This spurred the young Magnus to become a policeman and then a homicide detective. He kills two hitmen in Boston while investigating a drug ring, and is sent to Iceland for his own protection. When he arrives he is immediately swept up in a series of murders involving a "lost" Saga, obsessive Lord of the Rings fans, and a family with a millennium's worth of secrets. The plot's major twist involves some letters from J. R. R. Tolkien inferring a real-life connection with the "Ring of Power". All that, along with plenty of action in exotic Icelandic locales, would probably make this novel a good source for an action movie.
Needless to say, this is not a subtle examination of Scandinavian psychology. It is a page turner, however, even a cliff-hanger at times. It also refers to recent news events in Iceland. Things there have changed so much recently that it already seems somewhat dated. That said, Ridpath has done his homework concerning the Icelandic particulars; the places and cultural references are, for the most part, accurate. The weakest part of the book is his protagonist, possibly the most unappealing detective since Joe Don Baker's Mitchell. Part of my distaste might come from the author's prurient attitude toward Icelandic women. I've run into that before- is this some UK travel writer's sex fantasy thing? The Icelandic women I've met wouldn't give this slob the time of day. There is another title in this series, 66° North.
I don't think I'll regret it if I missed that one.