Ridpath, Michael - '66 Degrees North'
Reykjavik, January 2009. Iceland's economy has collapsed. Banks have been nationalised, jobs lost and savings devalued; people are angry. Protesters bang pots and pans in front of the Parliament building and demand the resignation of the Prime Minister. The bankers' greed did this and someone has to pay. The police are out, tear gas is being used. By the end of the evening an investment banker will die.
Snaefells Peninsula, 1934. Two young boys play warrior games amongst the twisted lava fields close to their homes. Creeping through the moss they hear a disturbance, and crawling forward they see a couple making love. One of the boys realises that the woman is his mother. And then he recognises the man. It is a moment of discovery that will disrupt their two families for generations.
Reykjavik, September 2009. Magnus Jonson is relaxing in the warm waters of the Largaudalur Baths when an excited colleague gives him the news that an ex-CEO of one of the disgraced Icelandic banks has been shot dead at his home in London. Magnus should get in on the case, says the colleague. Icelandic born but brought up in the USA, Magnus is a Boston cop currently on secondment to the Icelandic Police as a trainer in issues relating to city crime. He has already been involved in one murder investigation, and managed to step on some colleagues' toes. Strictly speaking he shouldn't participate in police work at all until he completes a six month training course at the Police College, and he has got two months of that to go. But he is bilingual in Icelandic and English, that could be useful in a London-based investigation. Maybe he should ring someone and see if he can get in on the banker shooting after all.
66 DEGREES NORTH is Book Two of Michael Ridpath's "Fire & Ice" series set in Iceland and featuring Icelandic born police detective Magnus Jonson. If "Fire & Ice" reflects the geology of Iceland, it's also applicable to the character of Magnus: red-haired, impulsive, frequently regretting not having the gun he would have carried back in Boston, but private, reticent about his childhood, and an outsider coldly obsessed by the murder of his own father in the USA. I enjoyed the first book, WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE, a lot. It established Magnus in Iceland and explored his family background and his ambivalent reception by his colleagues. It also introduced us to the singular landscape of Iceland and to its culture, not least the world of the Icelandic Sagas. In an interview for crime author J Sydney Jones' own blog: "Scene of the Crime", Ridpath has said that he is fascinated by Iceland's "...clash of the old and the new. In the 1940s Iceland was probably the poorest country in Europe, by 2007 it was one of the most advanced." Ridpath uses this theme in both books. In 66 DEGREES NORTH he does so by incorporating the lives of Magnus' own grandparents as a sub-plot running tandem with the main crime investigation.
The primary crime investigation in 66 DEGREES NORTH centres on the deaths in the financial world and with people suffering the effects of the money crisis all over the country it takes a while for the police to realise that the deaths are connected, and who in turn might be connected to those deaths. A lot of lives were ruined by the banking fiasco but it looks like some people intend to get revenge. Ridpath writes an absorbing portrait of the effect of the financial collapse upon the lives of Icelanders from all layers of society, and as an ex-bond trader and writer of financial thrillers himself, Michael Ridpath can give us insight into cause and effect better than most.
With a superb setting and well defined characters, not to mention strong plotting and some nail-biting moments, I really do recommend Michael Ridpath's 66 DEGREES NORTH. I also welcome the continuation of Magnus' own story that gives a strong indication that his stay in Iceland is not over yet. I'm looking forward to "Fire & Ice" Book Three.
Lynn Harvey, England