Posts

Locked up

Image
  I was looking for two things from my police contact Páll: the details of how the police would undertake an investigation from the discovery of the body to the eventual conviction of the murderer, and what difference Magnus would notice to homicide investigations back home.   Iceland's police officers Icelandic police have a friendly, almost cuddly image, especially when compared to their American counterparts. They have become experts at Instagram and Facebook, on which they rescue kittens and perform weird dances. It is an entirely different experience being stopped by an Icelandic traffic cop with her helpful smile and bobbing blonde ponytail, than by a shaven-headed American policeman with peak cap, sunglasses, jackboots, a gun wobbling at his hip and that special unsmiling look that asserts authority and, occasionally, fear. The pots-and-pans protests In 2009, the Icelandic police lost their weekend leave when they spent every Saturday protecting Parliament during the pots-a

Writing in Ice: The book of the blog

Image
  If you have been enjoying this blog over the last few months, you may want to buy my new book Writing in Ice: A Crime Writer’s Guide to Iceland .   It’s a compilation of the posts I have already published, plus lots more.   It’s an account of how I researched Iceland for a detective series, with, I hope, lots of useful information for anyone who is planning to visit the country.   It’s not entirely serious. Lilja Sigurdardóttir, one of Iceland’s top crime writers, said Writing in Ice is “the guide to Iceland I have most enjoyed” and that it is “so knowledgeable and humorous, yet kind toward our country’s quirkiness.”   Maybe she’s just being nice, but it made me happy.   Mike Ripley of Shots Magazine describes it thus: “Essentially a love letter to the geography, people and sagas of Iceland, Ridpath’s memoir not only charts his research into the Icelandic Psyche but also provides a road map for planning. plotting and writing a crime novel set in a foreign country.” I have published

Guns (or the lack of them) and crime

Image
   A major area of difference between crime in Iceland and crime in the US that Magnus would notice immediately is firearms. It turns out there are loads of guns in Iceland; you guessed it, t he country has the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world . But these are entirely for hunting: handguns and assault rifles are banned. Guns are rarely used in crimes, and the police are unarmed. Unlike the police in the US. Guns in America Guns are really important to American policemen. The bad guys are heavily armed: the police need guns to protect themselves and their colleagues. To research this series I read a fascinating book called  Into the Kill Zone  by David Klinger , which is a thorough analysis of what happens when American police officers shoot civilians.   We have seen in the news examples of this that are unjustified. But many times, police use their weapons in legitimate acts of self-defence. In tough areas they are aware that they might come under fire at any moment, or th

Time for the crime

Image
I have decided to pull together these blog posts into a book, which will be published at the beginning of July. Like this blog, the title is Writing in Ice: A Crime Writer's Guide to Iceland .  The book includes the posts I have published here and more that I have already written.  You can pre-order the ebook or paperback from Amazon .  If you would like a signed copy, or one not sold by Amazon, you can order one from my local bookshop, Lutyens and Rubinstein in Notting Hill, London. By far my most important appointment on that first research trip to Reykjavík was with my police contact, Páll. Some very successful crime writers get by without worrying at all about police procedure — Agatha Christie springs to mind, but there are many other more modern examples. Others are obsessive, like Peter James. I had always aimed to get the details right in my financial thrillers, and I wanted to do the same in these Magnus mysteries if only to create as vivid a portrait as I could of Icela

Favourite Places - Grótta

Image
  What you think of Grótta depends on the intersection of your mood and the weather.   If you are feeling tired or impatient and the wind is blowing and it's cold and raining and you can’t see for more than a hundred metres, then Grótta can be a bust. But when it is calm and still, and it is warm enough to sit and stare, and the sun is taking its sweet time to duck below the horizon, it is a special place.   The name Grótta refers to a tiny island at the tip of Seltjarnarnes, on which a lighthouse stands.   On the west side of this tip is a beach of black stones. At sunset, the sea shimmers in silver, gold, yellow, orange and even green as the sun creates a path heading westwards to the Atlantic and beyond (see photo above).   On a clear day, the snowy cone of Snaefellsjökull shimmers far away to the north. Sleek black cormorants slip in and out of the water and multicoloured ducks paddle about their business.   Terns wheel and dive, letting out their distinctive cry of ‘ kria’

More Reykjavík: Laugavegur and the 'burbs

Image
  Laugavegur My Reykjavík researches continued along Laugavegur, which is Reykjavík’s smartest shopping street. Laug means ‘hot spring’, so this was the road from Ingólfur’s original Norse settlement to the geothermal spring, which is now a swimming pool with hot tubs near Borgartún.  It became the route women took to do their washing, and presumably a crowded thoroughfare on Saturday, or laugardagur, when everyone went off for a bath. It’s still a hot place on Saturday night, after my bedtime, since most of the trendy clubs and bars are on this street. The trendiest of these is Kaffibarinn (see above). This is a small metal town house, painted bright red, a few yards up Bergstadastraeti from Laugavegur. It is easily identifiable by the London Underground sign hung above the door. It has an awesome reputation: the place to go on a weekend night for music and violent dancing. It’s supposed to be or have been part-owned by Damon Albarn of Blur, but it’s hard to pin that factoid down: m

Checking out Reykjavík, walking where my characters walk

Image
  I checked out Reykjavík. I was looking for places people might live, places people might meet, and the odd place someone might get stabbed or shot. It’s a bit morbid, but it’s my job.  I was to revisit all the spots I saw on this first trip many times over the following ten years. In May 2008, the global financial crash was just beginning its downward lurch. It was to hit Iceland particularly hard over the following twelve months. Parliament Square I started where Ingólfur Arnarson started, in Austurvöllur Square, which is a couple of hundred yards south of the bay and in the middle of what is now known as ‘Downtown’.  Austurvöllur is a bit of a mouthful, so let’s call it the Parliament Square, since Parliament is on one side. If you think Reykjavík is small for a capital city now, this is where you realize how seriously small it used to be a hundred years ago.  The square is a patch of green with a statue of a politician in the middle, some scrappy grass and daffodils and a few ben