THE POLAR BEAR KILLING by Michael Ridpath
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
When a policeman who shoots a polar bear that has wandered onto a farm in rural Iceland is killed a few days later in the very same manner, two animal activists become the prime suspects.
Over the past few years, British crime writer Michael Ridpath has become known for both his 'Fire and Ice' series set in Iceland, and his spy novels set at the start of World War Two. Here, he gives readers a welcome between-novels return to Iceland with an engaging novella involving Sergeant Magnus Ragnarsson and his colleague Detective Vigdís Audardóttir of the Reykjavik Violent Crimes Unit.
Constable Halldór splits his community, a tiny fishing village, when he guns down a polar bear. As the bear advances on a young farm girl, Halldór shoots it through the eye. Some see his crack shot as heroic, dealing with a dangerous wild animal and saving a life. Others see it as a crime, killing a beautiful beast unnecessarily. Couldn't Halldór have shepherded the polar bear away? Tranquilized it? In fact, surely he's a villain for creating the situation where he had to pull the trigger and kill the bear?
Things take an even darker turn when Constable Halldór is found a few days later, dead. Shot through the eye, just like the polar bear. Revenge from animal rights activists? Someone with a personal grudge?
Detective Vigdís Audardóttir, Iceland's only black cop, is sent from Reyjavik to investigate. The local police think they've already solved the case - they have two outsiders, animal rights activists, in custody. Vigdis isn't so sure though, and ends up complicating matters when she's attracted to one of the eco-warriors.
For a tale that's less than 70 pages in length, Ridpath delivers a satisfying whodunit with some interesting character development for fans of his 'Fire and Ice' series. Vigdis really comes to the fore, and we get to see her under stress, learning more about her personality and private life. I felt Ridpath did a good job mixing in a few red herrings and swerves, and I particularly enjoyed the texture of Icelandic life, particularly small-town village life with all it's familiarity, communal knowledge, and hidden grudges.
A quick read, but a very enjoyable one.
Craig Sisterson is a features writer from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson