Sycamore Gap by LJ Ross

Sycamore Gap, the second book in the DCI Ryan Mysteries, takes place about six months after the events in Holy Island. Ryan and Dr Anna are all but living together in Durham when Ryan is called to Hadrian’s Wall where a body has been found stuffed in cavity. Just as the police discover the body is only a decade old and not, as the ambitious archaeologist hanging around the site hopes, ancient, another much fresher body turns up in the same place – a body with ritualistic markings similar to those who were murdered on Lindisfarne months ago.

Once more, past and present collide for Ryan, his side-kick Phillips, and Anna as they work to uncover the killer or killers and seek connections to the brutal, sadistic Circle who caused so much havoc on Lindisfarne.

But it’s when Ryan is forced to confront his sister’s killer that events take an even more sinister turn. There are those involved who have professions and stellar careers to protect and, if they’re at risk, then what have they got to lose, especially when there are more victims to claim?

Fast-paced, the book nonetheless manages to delve slightly deeper into Ryan and Dr Anna’s relationship as well as the professional ones of Ryan, Phillips and their colleagues – as well as the case that almost broke Ryan. The dreaded Circle and its members are also fleshed out, though I confess there were times I found my disbelief stretched almost to breaking point.

While the Mills and Boonish air of the first book has, thankfully, dissipated in this one, there is still the sense that everyone is so bloody beautiful, they’ve been cast by a US modelling firm. Only some of the villains seem to bear any ordinariness in their physical characteristics… I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it did. LOL!

Still, I really enjoyed the book and Ross knows how to keep a reader turning the pages. Have already bought book three and look forward to losing myself in it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Oh. My. Where do I begin with this utterly original, completely heart-wrenching and beautiful story that kept me awake until the wee hours as I simply had to finish it? I have actually delayed writing a review because I am concerned I won’t do this magic novel justice. But I will try.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a debut novel by Gail Honeyman. It tells the tale of the socially inept, friendless, simple (as in uncomplicated) Eleanor, who’s worked at the same place for almost a decade, eaten the same things, drunk a couple of bottles of vodka every weekend, and followed, with minor aberrations, the same routine for years. This routine includes a weekly telephone call to her cruel institutionalised mother, who appears to have an unnatural and unhealthy hold over her daughter.

When one of Eleanor’s co-workers accompanies Eleanor down the street after work one day and they witness an accident, their subsequent kindness leads to some extraordinary and slow alterations in Eleanor’s life. Suddenly, Eleanor is forced to face the fact her life might be “fine” but is it complete? What she finds when the answers start to come is something unexpected, thrilling and totally frightening.

Beautifully written, sparse and yet, laden with meaning, it is both sweetness and light as well as darkness and horror all at once. Reading was akin to riding an emotional roller-coaster, but one I didn’t want to step from. Your heart aches for Eleanor and those who enter her sphere. As for the mystery that is her past, as it slowly unravels, you quake for Eleanor and what she must face.

This is about inner strength and the demons that try to weaken even the bravest of souls. It’s about friendship, and unexpected and simple acts of kindness and empathy, that come when you least expect it, but often most need them. It’s about fear of change, of the past, but also how both need to be embraced in order to alter the future.

Unsentimental, yet totally heart-warming, it is bitter-sweet as well. You yearn for Eleanor and for the light of hope that flickers through the pages never to be extinguished, though there are moments where it dims dangerously.

I am still thinking about this book days after reading it and cannot recommend it highly enough. A treasure of a story.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Good People by Hannah Kent

After reading and being so impressed with Hannah Kent’s debut novel, Burial Rites, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into her next one, The Good People. Like its predecessor, it is impeccably researched, this time immersing the reader in late 1800s Ireland within a small community that, when an orphaned child with serious incapacities is given to his grandparents to raise, finds itself beset with misfortune and death.

Focusing on three primary female characters and taking a true story for inspiration, Kent does a marvellous job of recreating the superstitions of a community clinging to pagan beliefs while trying to embrace modernity and the rule of the Catholic Church. For three women, the grieving grandmother, Nora, the young maid she hires to help her look after her grandson, Mary, and the “handy woman” and local healer, “Nance” the collision between old worlds and new, between faith in one set of beliefs and another, and the drive to nurture and protect is very real and painful.

Evoking the terrible poverty, lack of literacy and struggles of the small village in which these women dwell, the intimacy it creates – which is both blessing and curse – and the stark reality of their daily lives as they try to eke out an existence, Kent also manages to expose the beauty in their almost wilful ignorance; the way they embrace the magic of nature and the intrusion of culture (all while negotiating the villainy or good intentions of others), attributing that which they don’t or won’t understand to the “good people” or fairy folk. Convenient scapegoats as well as explanations for the inconceivable and painful, the “good people” are as much a part of their lives as their neighbours and the landscape from which they attempt to draw a living and life.

But not everyone believes in the “good people” or the powers and malice they’re purported to wield. Nor do some believe in the good intentions of those who cede to the fairies’ demands and desires, seeking to appease them. As Kent demonstrates, when two different ways of viewing the world and those who inhabit it collide, catastrophe and tragedy are sure to follow.

Heart-wrenching, mesmerising, beautifully written, I found myself urging characters to make different choices, to open their eyes and hearts. Flung into the midst of all this superstition – of the religious and pagan kind – as impossible and improbable as it was, as well as the way certain powers and vulnerabilities were abused for others’ gain, it’s both a relief and a wrench to leave it.

Simply superb. An engrossing and involved read that will leave you emotionally exhausted but lexically satisfied.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridasson

This was a wonderful, slow-burner of a book that segues between war-time Reykjavik in 1944 and the present. In 1944, a policeman named Flovent, an Icelandic expatriate named Thorson who is seconded to the military police, try to solve the brutal murder of a beautiful young Icelandic woman outside the national theatre. Initially suspecting the influx of US soldiers and the way they captivate the local girls who take unseemly risks to be responsible, they soon find they need to look closer to home.

Back in the present a retired detective, Konrad is asked to investigate the death of an elderly man who is found dead in his apartment. When a post-mortem reveals his death is, in fact, murder, Konrad cannot fathom who would want to kill this inoffensive, quiet man. It’s not until Konrad starts delving into his past and discovers he was not only a military policeman, but part of an inquiry into the terrible murder of a young woman during the war,  that Konrad understands the two cases, even though they’re separated by decades, might be connected.

While back in 1944 a perpetrator was taken into custody, tragic events followed his arrest. Evidently, these continued to haunt the now dead old man and thus, they haunt Konrad as well. Moreso when he discovers his own tenuous connection to the case.

It’s now up to Konrad to pick up where the old man left off and see if he can finally lay the ghosts that disturbed him to rest.

Atmospheric, very character driven, the intertwining of past and present works so well, weaving threads into a tight-knit solution.

There are some outstanding Scandi-noir writers and stories out there, and I am delighted to have found another to add to my reading pleasures!

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments