I’ll Keep You Safe by Peter May

I have been a huge fan of Peter May’s Lewis books. Evocative, laden with a sense of place and time, they are simply wonderful reads. I was so excited to discover another of his set in the Outer Hebrides. I snapped up I’ll Keep You Safe as soon as I became aware it was available, finished the book I’d been reading and snuggled down to lose myself in the magnificent story May weaves.

Though a “Hebridean” book, this one commences in Paris with a harried married couple, Niamh and Ruairidh, owners of the successful Ranish Tweed Company, finishing a business trip in Paris. When tragedy strikes, and Nimah must return home alone, both a grieving widow and prime suspect in a brutal murder, little does she know she’s also a potential victim.

Reflecting on her life with Ruairidh, and her feelings for him and how they altered and grew over the years, the story of their courtship, their families, the troubles that both beset them and tore apart the communities in which they matured surface. Woven through the investigation and the reaction of the island community to the Paris tragedy, the past and present beautifully offset one another and set a sombre, mysterious and yet warm tone.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Sylvie Braque, a single mother, leaves Paris to pursue the investigation, carrying her own personal demons and reflections. Trying to rise above them, she begins to understand that though it’s evident Niamh loved her husband, there were those who didn’t – professionally and personally. And it seems their drive for revenge hasn’t yet been satisfied…

  1. Apart from one storyline to do with Sylvie, who is a professional woman, I really enjoyed the first seven-eighths of the book. What stuck in my craw was the notion that a woman, in this instance a divorcee, must be so torn about being a mother and working, she must consider choosing between them. It doesn’t help that Sylvie’s ex is a prick that stirs the embers of guilt every time he speaks to her… but really? Is that all? It is such a tired premise. There are so many compromises that can be made – personal and professional – to ensure a woman can contribute to society as a worker and mother and at the same time. Yes, she will always carry guilt, but this constant self-doubting of Sylvie was on the one hand likely real, but on the other, a bit over the top for such a strong and dedicated woman. It didn’t always ring true. Nevertheless, I liked her and her presence in the tale until she did a really stupid thing towards the end…

And it’s the end I have the most difficulty with, but not because of Sylvie. After being carried by the story, loving the setting, the remembering of Niamh and the way the narrative segued back and forth and using different PoVs, I am not sure what happened in the last few chapters. It’s as if May thought, gee, I had better wind this up now and, instead of resolving it in a way that was in keeping with the rest of the tale, rushed through to a WTF ending. For me, it was barely believable – ridiculous even. I rolled my eyes, stared at the pages, remained incredulous and cross after finishing and wondered how such a good, strong story could be ruined. I am all for suspending disbelief, but this was way more than that. I was forced to throw it out the window. The motivation of the perpetrator, the unlikely sequence of events and appearances, even the actions of a character earlier were all just crazy in terms of a solid, consistent story. The fact it was brought to a close in a few pages didn’t help either, particularly in light of one narrative strand which definitely needed more explication than, “I thought it better not to tell you” or thereabouts.

After thinking I would give this book another five stars, despite my feelings about Sylvie, the last eight of the book barely deserves a one.

I feel so disappointed that I can’t give this book more and I am curious how others felt about the ending too. May never usually lets his readers down but I feel after building this one up, he dropped me off a narrative cliff into a raging sea. I drowned.

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Avarice (DI Munro and DS West #2) by Pete Brassett

I admit that when I read the first book in this series, She, I had some reservations, and while they haven’t all gone away, the books and the characters are growing on me. In this second book, Avarice, DI Munro has retired back to his beloved Scotland only to be pulled in to help solve a nasty crime before the town of Inverkip is flooded with tourists for the annual regatta. It just so happens Munro knows DS West is also in the region and, when he makes her an offer she can’t refuse, they join forces to solve a crime that seems to have more suspects than clues and only a week to solve it.

Easy-reading with lovely banter between the characters, and interesting relationships between the suspects, this is a delightful escape without the blood and gore that seems to dominate too many crime books these days. It also has a great twist at the end. Devoured it quickly and purchased the next one which is already proving to be fascinating.

3.5 stars and getting better with every page.

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Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Recommended to me by a dear friend with whom I share a love of reading, Girl in Snow, a first-time book from Danya Kukafka, is a sublime, beautifully written murder-mystery that rather than focussing on the forensics of the investigation into the death of a young girl, Lucinda Hayes, instead chooses to explore the impact her death and her life have on the people around her.

Told from three points of view: a cop with a deep secret named Russ, the strange, interior Cameron who though he has trouble socially, not only perceives the world around him in the most fascinating and imaginative way, can produce wonderful art. Much of his work is centred on Lucinda. Preferring to lurk in the shadows, when his work and manner draw attention to him and the secrets he keeps, he becomes a likely suspect. Then there is Jade: cynical and wise beyond her years, she too harbours desires and dark resentments, observing, alienating and loathing the townsfolk. The one thing she doesn’t keep to herself is her burning hatred for Lucinda and everything she represents.

Not only are the stories of these three characters interconnected, but so too is the relationships they have with Lucinda, their families and the neighbours and school friends who think they know them.

In order to solve Lucinda’s murder and bring her killer to justice, they must all face the past and, more importantly, the parts of themselves they’ve refused to acknowledge.

The thing that strikes you most about this book, apart from the tight plotting and totally credible resolution, is the gorgeous language. The prose is exquisite, the descriptions offered for mundane objects, for feelings almost impossible to express are all there on the page like poetry. Not only did I marvel at some of the descriptions, but became lost in the moment, saying the sentences over and over in my head like a litany.

Already I am looking forward to Kukafka’s next novel, because this debut is a doozy.

 

 

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The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson

I don’t know how many of you do this but I generally pay scant attention to the ads that appear when I boot up my Kindle – I mean, I scan them quickly, take in the title of the book, author and the shoutline, but never take any of it seriously enough to purchase. They’re a consumer distraction – a necessary one for the pleasure and convenience of my Kindle. For some reason, I made an exception with the ad for The Girl Who Lived. I don’t think it was the “girl” in the title (I am wearying of those), but something about the whole title that resonated. I downloaded it before I could change my mind and began reading. Well, I couldn’t stop – not until I finished it at some ungodly hour of the morning.

This book tells the story of Faith Winters who, in her early twenties is an alcoholic with a criminal record released from a care facility and into strict probation. She has one chance to make it in the community or she’s back in a facility for good. Picked up by her mother, Faith is taken to a small flat that’s been given to her by her parent and loathed step-father. Ungrateful, skitchy, Faith isn’t easy to like. Wanting to be left alone with her memories, it’s not long before the reader learns just how terrible and destructive those are.

Dark and horrifying doesn’t begin to describe what Faith bore witness to on the eve of her thirteenth birthday some ten years earlier. The only witness to brutal murders, murders attributed to someone she loved dearly, she’s not believed when she contests police findings. As a consequence, she starts to think maybe she was wrong and so spirals into a life of psychiatric care, drugs, and alcohol as memories of blood, fear, terror and self-doubt overwhelm her. All this is exacerbated by her mother, a therapist who, as a part of her own recovery is advised to write down her feelings on what happened. The result is not her own story, but that of her daughter’s trauma, a book called The Girl Who Lived.

The book and her memories haunt Faith and all of this is made worse on her release back into the community where she grew up. But when she believes she sees the man she thinks is the killer, and someone starts playing mind games with her, no-one believes her. Not helping her own case, she continues to drink and abuse prescription drugs, defying her probation rules and shedding self-doubt on what her heart is telling her is the truth – or is it?

Dark, utterly suspenseful, the reader is taken into a maze by an unreliable, oft-drunk and prickly narrator who, nonetheless, you end up championing. The other characters who hover around Faith are so well-crafted that, like Faith, you don’t know who you can trust. While I guessed the ending, it is still so well executed, and entirely plausible, it’s breath-taking and shocking all at once.

A sensational read that had me searching for more books by Greyson. This may have been the first of his I read, it certainly won’t be the last! I think I might pay more attention to those ads in the future as well…

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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.

 

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