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Far North by Michael Ridpath
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312675042
Date: 07 August 2012 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In 2008, the Kreppa crippled Iceland; its three major banks declared bankruptcy, plunging the country into a recession from which it will take many years to recover. Angry citizens protested outside Parliament during the pots-and-pans revolution. A loan agent for Ódinsbanki, Gabríel Örn Bergsson, is found drowned--an apparent suicide. Sergeant Detective Magnus Jonson from Boston, who is teaching an urban crime class in Reykjavik's National Police College, suspects murder. Soon afterwards, the former chairman for Ódinsbanki, Óskar Gunnarsson, is shot to death in London. Magnus must risk his life to prevent more businessmen and politicians, who are linked to the Kreppa, from being assassinated by a vindictive group of conspirators.

Michael Ridpath's Far North is a totally awesome mystery that shouldn't be missed. It has everything that I like in a mystery: an extremely unique setting, a vindictive serial killer, historical murders that parallel present day murders, a likeable hero, a shocking ending, and a wide assortment of supporting characters, both good and bad. With its highly engrossing plot, Far North is fast-paced. The only thing that initially slowed me down was the Icelandic language. However, the names became easier to pronounce and to remember the farther I read into the novel. I suppose I was slowly learning the country's language and customs.

Located directly to the east of Greenland, Iceland is an island nation in the North Atlantic Ocean. According to the July 2012 census, it has a population of approximately 313,183. Created by volcanic activity, Iceland is a strangely beautiful land with lava fields, icecaps, glaciers, and waterfalls--a photographer's paradise. Many residents fish and herd sheep as did their ancestors. Unfortunately, due to the Kreppa, which actually occurred, the unemployment rate is high. Many Icelanders are angry at the approximately thirty people who are responsible for the Kreppa. Far North, therefore, is quite timely and plausible. It made me contemplate on what I would do if my life savings was wiped out by the greed of thirty people who survived unscathed. Would I be angry enough to kill?

I learned a lot about the Icelandic people. They remove their shoes when they enter someone's house. (I take off my own when I step inside my apartment.) Police officers don't carry guns. How effective is that? Even Magnus claimed that he felt naked without one. When he was chasing a criminal, he kept hoping they weren't carrying a gun -- or a knife. The oddest thing I learned was that the citizens' names in the telephone directory are listed in alphabetical order starting with their first names. Settled by Irish and Scottish immigrants during the ninth century, Iceland is inhabited by people who are strong, hardy and brave, everything that I am not. The novel never mentions a high incidence of alcoholism and depression, which exist in Finland, another country of freezing temperatures. During my research, however, I discovered that Iceland has the highest number of AA groups per capita.

As stated earlier, Magnus Jonson is a likeable character. He is in love with Ingilief, the owner of a high-end art gallery; she was involved with his previous case. She is debating whether or not to accept a job with an art gallery in Germany. Magnus is still searching for his father's killer. His murder may be linked to his family's dark, abuse-ridden past and a series of murders that have occurred during a span of fifty years. Throughout the novel, especially at the beginning, consecutive chapters often alternated between the past and the present. The reader learns there are two serial killers; together, they produce a high body count that will satisfy fans of violent, bloody noir.

Far North is the second in the Magnus Jonson series, following Where the Shadows Lie, which, unfortunately, I haven't read. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed Far North, it would have been best if I had read Where the Shadows Lie first. The murder of Magnus' father, Ragnar, is an ongoing investigation that begins with the first novel and will continue with the third and maybe beyond. If you like police procedures with unusual locales and intriguing plots, then I highly recommend Far North. I can't wait for the next novel in the series; I'll travel far north or far south to buy it.

If you enjoy engrossing mysteries that alternate between the past and the present, then I strongly recommend Jon Land’s Strong Vengeance and Blake Crouch's Abandon.

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