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Holy Island by LJ Ross

I seem to be developing a real taste for UK crime books, especially those set on the magnificent islands that necklace the coast. When I discovered Holy Island by LJ Ross was set on Lindisfarne, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Described as the first book in the DCI Ryan mysteries, Holy Island introduces readers to a brooding, incredibly handsome detective named Maxwell Ryan who is on sabbatical from a case that almost broke him. Seeking solace and restorative time on Lindisfarne, when a young girl is found brutally and ritualistically killed, he is recalled from his break (down) to head the investigation.

Not one to suffer fools or unnecessary people being dragged into the investigation, when his boss invites historian, Dr Anna Taylor, a former local who left the island under a cloud, to aid Ryan, he is furious. But when more bodies, also bearing ritualistic signatures start to appear, he has no choice but to ask for the Dr’s help. Only, the Dr is also someone with buried memories and trauma and being back on the island, let alone dealing with a fractious, sexist cop isn’t her idea of work or play. But as the body count rises and Ryan and Dr Taylor are forced to work together, what they don’t realise is that danger, even on this once peaceful, tourist-laced isle, is closer than they think…

In many ways, the book is formulaic – both in terms of romance and procedure, but that’s fine to a point when it is also readable and this first instalment is readable. I think that’s why I can forgive its flaws – from the old-style Mills and Boon attraction of the lead characters (which had me groaning with dismay sometimes as it was quite clichéd in parts), to the lack of professionalism from Ryan. More complex than they first seem, we’re told through various mechanisms that both Ryan and Dr Lucy have layers and depths as do the secondary characters (Ryan’s side-kick, Phillips – who, thankfully, wasn’t a curmudgeonly old sergeant with a good heart so many crime books portray), but I would have liked more of those layers to be explored – particularly Dr Lucy’s apparent intellect. While the reason she specifically was called onto the case is explained later, it’s fairly weak and while you’re always waiting for her to prove herself and her credentials, she spends more time moaning about things not worthy of such a reaction or failing to heed good advice – that’s a wee bit frustrating. We’re told she’s smart rather than, a part from one exegesis she gives, shown.

As for Ryan, he might be good-looking (and there are many, many good-looking characters in this book), but he reads more like a 1940s hero, replete with sexist, misogynistic traits (that are then overturned by a show of sensitivity) than a cop for the new millennium – one who makes some rather silly decisions. He’s going to have to move with the times in a few ways, and revisit professional codes of conduct, to ring true, let alone keep the girl.

What will be interesting to see in the next books in the series is if the frame narrative that explains the crimes and characters responsible in this one will also feature. This was my major concern about the novel – the villains’ motivation was not only a bit simple, but it was a stretch, as was the manner in which they’re embedded in the community, thus allowing their crimes covered up a little too convenient.

Reminiscent of Elly Griffiths wonderful series featuring Dr Ruth Galloway, this book doesn’t have tis clever plot or endearing believable characters. Still, it was the first book and I did keep turning the pages, so I’ll give the second book a go as I do look forward to getting to know Ryan and Dr Lucy better.

Overall, 3.5 stars.

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