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.

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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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Last Rituals by Ysra Sigurdardottir

Continuing my love affair with Nordic Noir, I picked up this book, Last Rituals, by an author I hadn’t yet read, Ysra Sigurdardottir. Commencing with a suitably grisly discovery, when a young German student’s body is found on a university campus, sans eyes and with eerie markings inscribed on his body, the reader is introduced to Thora Gudmundsdottir, a lawyer who is hired by the family of the young man to investigate his death. While a suspect has been placed in custody, the family don’t believe he’s the culprit. Teaming up with a man sent from Germany to support her investigation, the blunt and seemingly humourless, Matthew Reich, Thora and her new partner uncover not only fascinating aspects of Iceland’s history, but the victim’s enthrallment with the occult. From ancient caves and supernatural and other traditions, burial rights, superstitions and precious documents worth a fortune and which could change history, Thora and Matthew become immersed in a deadly game of hide and seek, power, lies and deception, all tinged with witchcraft and dark magic. Can they break the spell hanging over this case or will they too fall victim to the forces arraigned against them?

What I really enjoy about Nordic Noir is the emphasis on character as much as plot and this book is no exception. As the investigation continues and clues and dead-ends are explored, the reader is invited to get to know single-mother, Thora, and her children and familial life better as well as the professional and slow-burning personal relationship she builds with Max.

History and the wild and majestic Icelandic landscape become as much characters in this book as the murder investigation, adding richness and depth to the sometimes staccato scene changes and otherwise excellent dialogue.

Slow but rewarding, I look forward to more in this series.

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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!

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TWO KINDS OF TRUTH BY MICHAEL CONNELLY

I don’t know how it’s possible, but this series just keeps getting better and better, so much so, I need more than five stars to rate it. The only downside of this latest adventure with former LAPD detective and now cold case worker, Harry Bosch is, because I virtually inhale the book the moment I start it, it’s over far too soon.

In Two Kinds of Truth, Bosch is faced with present and past dilemmas. He might be working on cold cases, but when one of his from 30 years earlier is resurrected, one which not only put a psychopath on death row, but which, if the killer’s appeal to have his sentence overturned and massive compensation paid succeeds, throws every case Harry has ever worked on, every criminal he ever helped convict, into doubt.

Claiming Harry framed him and he has the evidence to prove it, the killer’s case appears tight, so much so, Harry’s former partner is persuaded to help those assigned to investigate the matter. Things look grim for Harry, particularly since he left LAPD under less than salubrious circumstances. Determined to clear his name, he commences his own investigation.

In the meantime, he’s asked to help in a brutal double-murder. Keen to be back on the streets and working “hot”, Harry and his team uncover the corruption and cruelty of big pharma, those who benefit from its nefarious dealings, and the toll this takes on the most vulnerable in society.

Older, most definitely wiser, with the cunning of a fox and instincts of a seasoned hunter, and yet willingness to share his knowledge and experiences, if there’s one thing Harry will not stand for, it’s having his honour – as an officer of the law and man – questioned. Nor will he tolerate the motives of a good person being trashed, especially when they’re no longer there to defend themselves or explain their actions and motives. This means Harry will take terrible risks in order that the truth outs and that those who seek to bury it pay the consequences of their deception.

But Harry is dealing with those who don’t share his values and don’t care about truth – unless its silencing the man who seeks to find and expose it.

Taut, fast-paced, but without sacrificing tension or emotional integrity, this is a magnificent read that is impossible to put down. Characters from previous books such as Lucy Soto, Jerry Edgar, Mickey Haller, Harry’s daughter and others appear, their desire to help the man who has always had their back admirable, though not always successful.

Like all the Bosch books, it can be read as a standalone, but the rewards for following Harry’s career and personal life are so much richer when you have the whole context.

Highly recommended – nah, bugger that. Read it! You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

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