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Where the Shadows Lie
By Michael Ridpath
Grove Atlantic LtdCopyright © 2010 Michael Ridpath
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Professor Agnar Haraldsson folded the letter and slipped it back into its small yellowing envelope.
He glanced again at the address inscribed in an upright, ornamental hand: Högni Ísildarson, Laugavegur 64, Reykjavík, Iceland. The stamp bore the profile of a beardless British king, an Edward or a George, Agnar wasn't certain which.
His heart thumped, the envelope performing a tiny dance in his shaking hand. The letter had arrived that morning enclosed within a larger envelope bearing a modern Icelandic stamp and a Reykjavík postmark.
It was all that Agnar could have hoped for. It was more than that; it was perfect.
As a professor of Icelandic at the University of Iceland, Agnar had been privileged to handle some of the oldest manuscripts of his country's sagas, copied out by monks with infinite care on to sheaves of calf skins using black bearberry juice for ink, and feathers from the left wings of swans for pens. Those magnificent documents were Iceland's heritage, Iceland's soul. But none of them would cause as great a stir in the outside world as this single sheet of paper.
And none of them was his discovery.
He looked up from his desk over the serene lake in front of him. It glittered a rare deep blue in the April sunshine. Ten minutes before it had glinted steel grey, and in a few more minutes it would do so again as dark clouds from the west chased after those disappearing over the snow-topped mountains across the lake to the east.
A perfect location for a summer house. The cabin had been built by Agnar's father, a former politician who was now in an oldpeople's home. Although summer was still some time away, Agnar had escaped there for the weekend to work with no distractions. His wife had just given birth to their second child, and Agnar had a tight deadline to get through a pile of translation.
'Aggi, come back to bed.'
He turned to see the breathtakingly beautiful figure of Andrea, ballet dancer and third-year literature student, naked as she glided across the bare wooden floor towards him, her blonde hair a tangled mess.
'I'm sorry, darling, I can't,' he said nodding towards the mess of papers in front of him.
'Are you sure?' She bent down to kiss him, and ran her fingers under his shirt and through the hair on his chest, her mane tickling his nose. She broke away. 'Are you really sure?'
He smiled and removed his spectacles.
Well, perhaps he would allow himself one distraction.CHAPTER 2
Sergeant Detective Magnus Jonson trudged along the residential street in Roxbury towards his car. He had a load of typing to do back at the station before he could go home. He was tired, so tired: he hadn't slept properly for a week. Which was perhaps why the smell had hit him so badly.
It was a familiar smell: raw beef a week past its sell-by date tinged with a metallic edge. He had experienced it many times in his years with the Boston Police Department's Homicide Unit.
Maria Campanelli, white female, twenty-seven.
She had been dead thirty-six hours, stabbed by her boyfriend after an argument and left to decompose in her apartment. They were out looking for him now, and Magnus was confident he would be found. But to be certain of a conviction they needed to make sure they got the paperwork one hundred per cent accurate. A bunch of people to be interviewed; a bunch of forms to be filled out. The department had suffered a scandal a few years back with a series of slip-ups in the chain of evidence, documents misfiled, court exhibits lost. Since then defence lawyers had jumped on any mistakes.
Magnus was good at the paperwork, which was one of the reasons he had recently been promoted to sergeant. Perhaps Colby was right, perhaps he should go to law school.
For the twelve months they had been living together she had gradually turned up the pressure: why didn't he quit the department and go to law school, why didn't they get married? And then, six days ago, when they were walking arm in arm back from their favourite Italian restaurant in the North End, a Jeep had driven past with its rear window wound down. Magnus had thrown Colby to the sidewalk just as a rapid succession of shots rang out from a semi-automatic rifle. Maybe the shooters thought they had hit their target, maybe there were too many people around, but the Jeep had driven off without finishing the job.
That was why she had kicked him out of her apartment. That was why he had spent sleepless nights in the guest room of his brother's house in Medford. That was why the smell had gotten to him: for the first time in a long time the smell of death had become personal.
It could have been him splayed out on the floor of that apartment. Or Colby.
It was the hottest day of the year so far, which had, of course, made the smell worse, and Magnus was sweating in his suit jacket. He felt a touch on his elbow.
It was a guy of about fifty, Latin, bald, short and overweight, unshaven. He was wearing a large blue shirt which hung out over jeans.
Magnus stopped. 'Yeah?'
'I think I saw something. The night the girl was stabbed.' The man's voice was gruff, urgent.
Magnus was tempted to tell the guy to beat it. They had a witness who had seen the boyfriend come, another who had seen him leave six hours later, three who had heard a loud argument, one who had heard a scream. But you could never have enough witnesses. Another statement to type up when he got back to the station.
Magnus sighed as he reached for his notebook. There were still several hours to go before he could go home and take the run and shower he needed to get the smell out of his system. If he wasn't too exhausted for a run by then.
The man looked nervously up and down the street. 'Not here, I don't want nobody to see us talking.'
Magnus was about to protest — the victim's boyfriend was a cook at the Boston Medical Center, hardly someone to be scared of — but then he shrugged and followed the man as he hurried down a small side street, between a dilapidated grey clapboard house and a small red-brick apartment building. Little more than an alley, with some kind of construction site with a high wire fence at the end. A heavily tattooed kid with a yellow T-shirt stood at the street corner. He smoked a cigarette, his back to Magnus.
As they entered the alleyway, the bald guy seemed to speed up. Magnus lengthened his stride. He was about to yell to the guy to slow down, when he stopped himself.
Magnus had been asleep. Now he was awake.
Among the forest of tattoos on the kid's arms, Magnus had noticed a small dot above one elbow, and a pattern of five dots above the other. One five, fifteen, the tattoo of the Cobra-15 gang. They didn't operate in Roxbury. This kid was way outside of his territory, by at least three miles, maybe four. But the Cobra-15 were customers of Soto's operation, local distribution agents. The guys in the Jeep in the North End had been working for Soto, Magnus was sure.
Magnus's instinct was to straighten up and turn, but he forced himself not to break his stride and alert the kid. Think. Think fast.
He could hear footsteps behind him. Gun or knife? The sound of a gun would be risky this close to the crime scene — there were still one or two cops milling around. But the kid knew Magnus was armed and no one brings a knife to a gunfight. Which meant gun. Which meant the kid was probably pulling it out of the waistband of his pants right then.
Magnus dived to the left, grabbed a garbage can and threw it to the ground. As he hit the ground he rolled once, reached for his gun and pointed it towards the kid, who was raising his own weapon. Magnus's finger curled around the trigger, and then his training kicked in. He hesitated. The rule was clear: don't fire if there is a chance of hitting a civilian.
In the mouth of the alleyway stood a young woman, grocery bags in both arms, staring at Magnus, her mouth open. She was wide, real wide, and directly behind the kid in the yellow T-shirt in Magnus's line of fire.
The hesitation gave the kid time to raise his own gun. Magnus was looking straight down the barrel. A stand off.
'Police! Drop your weapon!' Magnus shouted, even though he knew the kid wouldn't.
What would happen next? If the kid fired first, he might miss Magnus, and then Magnus could get away his own shot. Although he was six foot four and weighed over two hundred pounds, Magnus was lying prone on the street, partially hidden by the dislodged trash can, a smallish target for a panicked kid.
Perhaps the kid would back off. If only the woman would move. She was still rooted to the spot, her mouth open, trying to scream.
Then Magnus saw the kid's eyes flick upwards and behind Magnus. The bald guy.
The kid wouldn't have taken his eyes off Magnus's gun if the bald guy was holding back. He would only risk that if the bald guy was relevant to the situation, if he was his saviour, if he had his own gun and was approaching Magnus from behind. Hold off for a couple of seconds until the bald guy shot Magnus in the back, that was the kid's plan.
Magnus pulled his trigger, just once, not the twice he had been trained. He wanted to keep the numbers of bullets flying towards the fat woman to a minimum. The kid was hit in the chest; he jerked and fired his own gun, missing Magnus.
Magnus reached out to the trash can and flung it behind him. He turned to see the empty container hitting the bald guy in the shins. The man was reaching under his belly for his own gun, but doubled over as he tripped on the can.
Magnus fired twice hitting the guy each time, once in the shoulder and once in the bald crown of his head. A mess.
Magnus pulled himself to his feet. Noise kicked in. The fat woman had dropped her groceries and was screaming now, loud, very loud. It turned out there was nothing wrong with her lungs. A police siren started up somewhere close. There was the sound of shouting and running feet.
The bald guy was still, but the kid was sprawled on his back on the ground, his chest heaving, his yellow T-shirt now stained red. His fingers were curled around his gun as he tried to summon up the strength to point it towards Magnus. Magnus stamped hard on his wrist and kicked the gun out of the way. He stood panting over the boy who had tried to kill him. Seventeen or eighteen, Hispanic, close-cropped black hair, a broken front tooth, a scar on his neck. Taut muscles under swirls of ink on his arms and chest, intricate gang tattoos. A tough kid. A kid his age in Cobra-15 could already have several dead bodies to his name.
But not Magnus's. At least not today. But tomorrow?
Magnus could smell gunpowder and sweat and fear and once again the metallic bite of blood. Too much blood for one day.
'I'm taking you off the street.'
Deputy Superintendent Williams, the chief of the Homicide Unit, was firm. He was always firm, that was one of the things Magnus appreciated about him. He also appreciated that he had come all the way from his office on Schroeder Plaza in downtown Boston to make sure that one of his men was safe. They were in an anonymous motel room in an anonymous motel somewhere off I-91 between Springfield, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut, chaperoned by FBI agents with Midwestern accents. Magnus hadn't been allowed back in the station since the shooting.
'I don't think that's necessary,' Magnus said.
'Well, I do.'
'Are we talking Witness Protection Programme?'
'Possibly. This is the second time someone has tried to kill you within a week.'
'I was tired. I let my guard down. It won't happen again.'
Williams raised his eyebrows. His black face was deeply lined. He was small, compact, determined, a good boss, and honest. That was why Magnus had gone to him six months before when he had overheard his partner, Detective Lenahan, talking on his cell phone to another cop about tampering with evidence in a homicide investigation.
They were on a bullshit stakeout. Magnus had gone for a walk and was returning to the car when he stopped in the fall sunshine just behind the passenger window. The window was open a crack. Magnus could hear Lenahan clearly, wheedling, cajoling and threatening a Detective O'Driscoll to do the right thing and smudge the fingerprint evidence on a gun.
Magnus and Lenahan had not been partners for long. At fifty-three, Lenahan was twenty years older than Magnus. He was experienced, smart, popular, and he seemed to know everyone in the Boston Police Department, especially those with Irish last names. But he was lazy. He used his three decades of experience and knowledge of police methods to do as little work as possible.
Magnus saw things differently. As soon as he had closed one case he was eager to move on to the next; his determination to nail the perp was legendary within the department. Lenahan thought there were good guys and there were bad guys, there always were and there always would be. There was not very much that he or Magnus or the whole Boston police force could do about that. Magnus thought that every victim, and every victim's family, deserved justice, and Magnus would do his very best to get it for them. So the Jonson–Lenahan partnership was hardly made in heaven.
But until that moment, Magnus had not imagined that Lenahan was crooked.
There are two things that a cop hates more than anything else. One is a crooked cop. Another is a cop who rats on one of his colleagues. For Magnus the choice was easy — if people like Lenahan were allowed to get away with destroying evidence of a homicide, then everything he had devoted his career towards was worthless.
Magnus knew that most of his colleagues would agree with him. But some would turn a blind eye, convince themselves that Magnus had misheard, that good old Sean Lenahan could not be one of the bad guys. And others would think that if good old Sean got himself a little retirement nest egg by taking money off one bad guy who had just killed another, then good luck to him. He deserved it after serving the citizens of Boston so loyally for thirty years.
Which is why Magnus had gone straight to Williams and only Williams. Williams had understood the situation. A couple of weeks later Magnus's promotion came through and he and Lenahan were split up. An undercover team from the FBI was brought in from out of state. A major investigation was launched and Lenahan was linked with two other detectives, O'Driscoll and Montoya. The Feds discovered the gang that was paying them off; it was Dominican, led by a man named Pedro Soto, who operated out of Lawrence, a faded mill town just outside Boston. Soto supplied cocaine and heroin wholesale to street gangs all over New England. The three crooked detectives were arrested and charged. Magnus was billed as the star witness when the case eventually came to trial.
But the FBI hadn't yet amassed enough evidence to charge Soto. He was still out there.
'Your guard slips once, it can slip again,' said Williams. 'If we don't do something you'll be dead within two weeks. They want your ass and they'll get it.'
'But I don't see why they want to kill me,' Magnus said. 'Sure, my testimony will nail Lenahan, but I can't point to Soto or the Dominicans. And you said Lenahan isn't cooperating.'
'The FBI thinks it's figured out Lenahan's angle. The last thing he wants is to wind up in a maximum-security prison with a bunch of convicted killers, no cop would want that, he'd be better off dead. But without your testimony, he'll walk. Our guess is that he has given the Dominicans an ultimatum: they get rid of you or he'll give them to us. And if he doesn't, his buddy Montoya will. If you die, Lenahan and the other two go free, and Soto's operation continues as if nothing has happened. But if you live to testify, Lenahan does a deal with the FBI, and Soto and his boys will have to close down business and head home to the Dominican Republic. If we don't get to them first.'
Williams looked Magnus right in the eye. 'Which is why we have to figure out what to do with you.'
Magnus saw Williams's point. But full witness protection would mean starting up a new life with a new identity on the other side of the country. He didn't want that. 'Got any ideas?' he asked Williams.
'Matter of fact, I do.' Williams smiled. 'You're an Icelandic citizen, right?'
'Yes. As well as US. I have dual.'
'Do you speak the language?'
'Some. I spoke it as a child. I moved here with my dad when I was twelve. But I haven't spoken it since he died.'
'Which was when?'
'When I was twenty.'
Williams allowed a brief pause to express his sympathy. 'Well, I guess you speak it better than most of the rest of us, then.'
Excerpted from Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath. Copyright © 2010 Michael Ridpath. Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Michael Ridpath's latest offering, "Where the Shadows Lie" is a tight mix of crime and lore that takes the reader on a journey from crime-ridden streets to the slopes of a mysterious volcano. Fast-paced and well written, Ridpath keeps your attention while exploring 10th century sagas, corrupt policemen, contract killers, fanboys, family secrets, and a magical ring. "Where the Shadows Lie" follows Magnus Jonson, an Icelandic born Boston detective that must flee to his native country to escape the hired guns involved in a police corruption trial for which he is a star witness. While in Iceland, he assists the National Police as they try to understand the murder of a college professor. As the investigation unfolds, evidence points to a mysterious manuscript, known only to one family and may have been the inspiration for one of the greatest sagas of all time: "The Lord of the Rings." As the investigation deepens and arrests are made, tantalizing clues are uncovered that suggests the legend of a magical ring may actually be fact and the ring may still exist. As time begins to run out on Detective Jonson, he must track down a killer among the surreal landscape of Iceland while dealing with a crippling family secret and avoid the hit man that has somehow found him. Michael Ridpath takes a risk by tying a very good crime story to an ancient fable and it pays off. His creation is a must-read for any "Lord of the Rings" fan and should create new readers for Tolkien through his experiment. Ridpath's research into Iceland and its people, customs, and geography, makes the British author seem native. "Where the Shadows Lie" has a lot going for it and the reward is worth the journey. Reviewed by Brian Blocker for Suspense Magazine
This book, while entertaining, is not a page turner. I have been a scandinavian mystery reader for close to seven years now and I suppose I have been spoiled by Henning Mankell. It is interesting to learn about Icelandic culture, sagas, and traditions, but I did not find the underlying plot to be overly interesting enough for me to recommed purchase. If it is available in the library, then I say go for it. But the introduction to the main character and the circumstances surrounding his journey to Iceland is campy and it is difficult to forget the weak beginning of the novel. I am sure that the author will further refine his detective, but I am not sure that I will be a follower.
A Dominican drug cartel operating in Massachusetts places a price on the head of Boston Police Sergeant Detective Magnus Jonson. To keep him safe, the brass arranges an assignment with the Icelandic police department. Magnus arrives in Reykjavik where he quickly realizes the rules differ from back home; his Icelandic education in policing starts with the fact that the cops do not carry weapons. The American is assigned to the team investigating the murder of Professor Agnar Haraldsson, an expert on Icelandic mythos and legends. Though he feels for the victim, Magnus' enjoys looking into the mythology of his native land where his dad was murdered years ago. He especially finds fascinating that allegedly Haraldsson found the source of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. As he investigates, Jonson alienates superiors on both sides of the pond when he learns that the Dominicans who attack his Bostonian family and have also come to Iceland to stamp his passport as dead. This terrific Icelandic Police Procedural deftly merges the nation's mythology and history with a present day murder case. Magnus is a terrific protagonist as he feels like a fish out of water though he was in Iceland; he is a veteran American cop struggling with adjusting to different rules than he has adhered to in the past; this adds realism to the wonderful whodunit which is further enhanced by the Tolkien connection. Harriet Klausner
I enjoyed reading Where The Shadows Lie. A great bonus was learnig about Iceland along the way.
If you are at all interested in Iceland or Tolkien's ring-and you enjoy police procedurals, then you will enjoy this quick-read from British author Ridpath. Do not expect "Jar City," though.
This is just a copy of The Lord of the Rings with different characters. Why not read the real thing instead?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the imagery of Icelandic waterfalls, volcanoes and landscapes was thrilling.
While there was much in this book I liked, the characters, the storyline was good, the constant retelling of Icelandic fables and stories served to make me lose the connection to the main case. In the beginning I liked all the references to Lord of the Rings and other Icelandic sagas, but they were told in such depth that it proved to be a distraction. Not your typical Nordic novel as the book starts in Boston and than combines elements of both cultures into the story which was interesting.
A real page turner. Good read!
Great read for murder mystery and Lord of the Rings fans
I am not much of a Hobbit reader so parts of this I skimmed but it was a good mystery,
Had to keep reading it, pretty good story. It takes a lot for me to review a book, but this one deserved it.
Fascinating backstory in the sagas. Strong and sometimes frustrating characters and fun storyline. Looking forward to more.
Different premise. Lore mixed with murder mystery. Enjoyed it.
I loved the weaving of modern who done it with ancient lore and supposed connection with Lord of the Rings. Interesting characters and a great setting in Iceland with fascinating descriptions of local countryside and culture.
An enjoyable read.
Interesting story, enjoyed the contrasts of Icelandic culture with the US.
Although I am not a Lord of the Ring fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this story.
Hard to put down. Fast moving with wonderful plot and engaging characters.
Great read Very good
Very enjotable .
If you are a fan of The Lord of The Ring you will enjoy this.
Good thing this was free.Had to skip threw most of it!
A very intriguing story.
Where servants and maids of the nobles and Lord and Lady abide. The beds are nothing more than simple cots a few inches from the cold floor. A fireplace is in the corner of the room, though it is rarely lit because of the warm temperatures throught the tower.