Far North (66˚North), by Michael Ridpath

Far North“Iceland was angry:” quite possibly my favourite opening line to date. With over 130 volcanoes, 30 to 40 of which are active, the resultant topography and climate have rendered Iceland somewhat mercurial, a tad tetchy. But that’s just the land.  With a pluckiness akin to the sisu of the Finns, Icelanders are a resilient and largely easy-going bunch, having forged out their own unique customs, history and lifestyle alongside of their simmering, treeless landscape. They generally stay sober during the week and then party it up long and hard for the weekend – nice. Their economy has mostly been stable, but when the kreppa (crisis) came in 2009, a lot of people’s lives were shot to pieces, causing some rather serious tension.

Far North opens with the Pots and Pans Revolution, with people gathered on the steps of Parliament, demanding that the government step down. Kreppanomics, as it is now known, involved the collapse of the three main privately owned commercial banks in Iceland. The few market wobbles that occurred prior to the crash were, unfortunately, inadequate warning signs for the fell swoop that crumpled the country’s credit rating and currency.

As the phrase suggests, the Pots and Pans Revolution was non-violent until a few black sheep protestors decided to throw stones at the police. In true Icelandic spirit, though, the other protestors formed a protective wall against them. This is symbolic of Iceland’s general attitude towards violence. Of course, murders occur and bad stuff happens, but imagine a police force that doesn’t carry guns. In fact, it wasn’t until earlier this year that the first person ever, in the history of Iceland, was shot and killed by a regular police officer. Guns are generally only used by the Reykjavik SWAT team, know (delightfully) as the Viking Squad.

At the time of the kreppa, though, guns and police did not go together, which is unfortunate for Magnus Jonson. Magnus is a man in need of a gun. Continuing on from the first book in the series, Where the Shadows Lie, Magnus is a Boston cop on secondment to the police in Reykjavik. With a family history in Iceland, he’s fluent in the language, but not entirely comfortable with their methods of law enforcement. In fact, he seems to spend a good deal of time irritating his Icelandic superiors whilst endeavouring to solve his cases: not always in an orthodox fashion.

The current case involves unemployed banker, Harpa Einarsdóttir, who, in the company of some fellow revolutionaries, accidently kills her former boss and boyfriend, Gabríel Örn. The group successfully covers up the crime, but Harpa is fraught with guilt. Eight months later, in London, Óskar Gunnarsson, another leading banker, is murdered. Working with London DS Sharon Piper, Magnus’s gut instinct is that the two deaths are somehow connected and that another may well be in the offing. The difficulty is in proving it. As the story unfolds and guilt manifests itself through threats of going to the police, Magnus and the team are running short of time to work out who is involved, and who may be the next victim.

Running parallel with this storyline is the intriguing sub-plot of Magnus’s family and the mystery of who killed his father. While his mother and father are dead, Magnus’s cantankerous grandfather, Hallgrímur, is well and truly alive. An intimidating and frightful figure, the grudges that shaped Hallgrímur‘s life in the 1930’s are expounded upon, with Ridpath drawing on the Icelandic sagas he is so obviously passionate about. There is undoubtedly more to come on this in Meltwater, the next installment in the Fire and Ice series.66DNorth


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