Monday, June 17, 2013

Review of Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath (Corvus, 2010)

Sergeant Detective Magnus Jonson did not have an ideal upbringing.  His father abandoned his family and left Iceland for the United States.  A couple of years later, his drunken mother was killed when her car hit a rock face.  Magnus and his brother moved to be with their father and his new wife in the US, but shortly afterwards he was murdered, the killer never caught.  Filled with a need to seek justice for the victims of murder he joined the police force.  After witnessing and reporting a colleague who was taking bribes from a Dominican gang in Boston, he becomes a marked man.  Surviving an attempt on his life, his bosses decide to put him in a witness protection programme by fulfilling a request from the Icelandic police force for a secondment of an experienced officer to help in their training.  Magnus has no great desire to return to the land of his birth, but has little choice in the matter.  He tries to persuade his partner to join him, but she won’t go unless they get married.  Unwilling to bow to that kind of emotional blackmail, Magnus travels alone, arriving shortly after one of Iceland’s rare murders and is asked to help in the investigation, much against the wishes of the lead officer.  Frustrated by how the case is being run and trying to settle back into life in Iceland, he starts to follow his own lines of enquiry into the death of Prof. Agnar Haraldasson, an expert in old Icelandic sagas.  At the same time, the gang in Boston has not given up on tracking him down.

The strength of Where the Shadows Lie are the lead character, the outsider-insider storyline, and contextualisation with respect to the Tolkein and Lord of the Rings.  Magnus Jonson is a strong and engaging lead character who has been unsettled by the corruption case in Boston, the move back to Iceland, and splitting with his long-term partner.  Born in the country, able to speak and read the language, and being familiar with its lore, but having left for the US when he was twelve, Magnus is both an insider and outsider; a square peg looking to fit a round hole, but nevertheless a peg.  The other characterisation is also generally good, with an interesting cast.  The link between Tolkein and a long lost Icelandic saga seems both plausible and credible, though the plotline concerning the ring, as opposed to the manuscript, seemed a little ridiculous and over-wrought.  Indeed, the plot does lack credibility at a number of different points, including the premise for him being sent to Iceland (which should rest on the months of FBI case building and not him witnessing one exchange), and his relationship with Colby (which seemed long over).  Moreover, the writing is often quite pedestrian and flat, lacking in engaging prose and with too much show rather than tell.  Overall, an interesting lead character and I’d try the second book in the series, in which the plotting is hopefully a little less fanciful.


Anonymous said...

Rob - As ever a thoughtful and well-written review. I thought Magnus Johnson was a really interesting character too and I do think that 'outsider's perspective' is an interesting plot point.

Keen Reader said...

How's your own writing going, Margot?