My Icelandic Crime Novels: How are They Different?


Michael Ridpath's Magnus Iceland Mysteries
In my last blog post, I gave you a brief survey of the amazing crime writers working in Iceland at the moment. Where do my own books fit into this crowded field?

Well, they are different. Right from the beginning, with my first novel, Where The Shadows Lie, I wanted to deal with how Iceland connected to the rest of the world, to examine issues that affect the globe beyond Iceland.

This was partly because I thought this was a good approach to take, but mostly because that’s the way I have always written my books.

My financial thrillers were about the international tribe that beavers away in international finance. The characters came from many different countries, and the novels were rarely stuck in one setting. I have never yet written an entire book set in England.

This simply reflects my own dreams from an early age. I was brought up in a tiny village in Yorkshire. I wanted to escape to see the world. I had an uncle who was a naturalist in the bush in northern Australia, and I thought he was very exciting.

When I left university, I joined an international bank, partly so I could travel for work and partly because there was a training programme in New York for six months. Which is where I met my American wife and met fellow trainees from all over the world, many of whom became my friends.

My Magnus novels have always included foreigners, just like all my other novels. Magnus himself, as I have explained before, although born in Iceland was brought up in America and learned his detective skills there. I don’t know as much about Icelandic society as the other crime writers who write about Iceland, but I think I can write about the way that Iceland interacts with the rest of the world.

Where The Shadows Lie is about how a lost saga got to Tolkien while he was writing Lord of the Rings; 66 Degrees North is about the global financial crash and how it affected Iceland; Meltwater is about how a volcano traps foreign whistleblowers in Iceland; Sea of Stone is about how a murder in Magnus’s own family spans America and Iceland; The Wanderer is about a hoax taking in Italy, Greenland, Nantucket as well as Iceland.

My most recently published book, Death in Dalvik, about the damage cryptocurrencies can do to a small village, is, I suppose my most Iceland-only book, although the cryptocurrency in question is brought to the country by foreign cypto-evangelists.

And the book I am working on at the moment is about that glorious moment in British history, May 1940, when we invaded Iceland. So glorious, almost no one in Britain knows about it.

The Icelandic saying glöggt er gests augad means something like clear is a guest’s eye. I hope my eye, as a guest of Iceland, is clear. Magnus himself is a guest and very aware of it. In my books, Magnus wrestles with the problem of being neither Icelandic nor American. In a similar way, his partner, Vigdís, struggles with what it is to be a black Icelander. As an observer of people who live in countries that are not their own, these are the kind of issues I think about a lot.

I said my books are different from those of the other writers of Icelandic crime fiction, but if you look closely at their books, they too reflect their own individual backgrounds. Which is part of the joy I’m sure they find in writing their novels, and the joy we have in reading them.

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