The Wife and the Widow by Christian White

Having thoroughly enjoyed White’s debut novel, The Nowhere Child, I couldn’t wait to read his latest. As usual, life got in the way and it wasn’t until work was put aside for Christmas that I was able to treat myself to this marvellous and structurally clever novel and immerse myself in its mystery.

Set on an island off the coast of Victoria Australia, the action occurs during winter, when most of the tourists have gone and the residents are left to live their usual lives. When a body is found, not only does the town begin to whisper and those whose lives are affected by the murder rush to cover up long-held secrets, but the newly minted widow arrives to pick up the pieces and discover what led to her husband’s death – a man, it swiftly becomes apparent, she didn’t really know as well as she thought.

Atmospheric, wonderful, stark and evocative prose, this is a book that will hold you in thrall as it slowly builds to a conclusion that when you see it coming will impress you for its craftiness.

Another wonderful read from White – I cannot wait to see what he produces next.

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The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

The second Cormac Reilly book by Dervla McTiernan, The Scholar, is a gripping read, a genuine page-turner that had me staying up into the wee hours because I simply had to finish it. 

Cormac and his scientist girlfriend, Dr Emma, have now moved to Galway where Cormac has been assigned cold cases and given the cold shoulder by his new bosses while Emma takes up a prestigious job in a pharmaceutical research company attached to the local university. When a young woman is found brutally murdered on campus grounds, and Emma is the one to discover the body, it sets in motion a chain of events that have devastating consequences, not just for the victim’s friends and family, but for Cormac and Emma as well.

McTiernan has done a marvellous job of expanding upon the primary characters she established in her debut novel, The Ruin, and introducing some new ones as well. She also uses police politics and procedures to give the reader insight into how various characters cope with not only the mundanity of the everyday, but the impact this, and the trauma of police work, can have upon families, individuals as well as the toxicity of certain personalities and their motivations in the workplace. DS Cormac Reilly is a terrific character and his relationship with Emma is still finding its feet as she deals with the fallout of the past and he has to overcome his urge to protect her. It feels real as do the various issues they have that any busy professionals with psychologically and physically demanding jobs as well as emotional baggage could face. 

Not only does McTiernan create relatable characters you invest in (or even dislike intensely even while understanding why they might behave a particular way), but the plot is also given careful treatment. It is tight, totally believable and intense. I had to know how this book resolved itself and couldn’t sleep until I did – and then it kept turning over and over in my head.

A fantastic follow-up to what’s already proving to be a sensational series. Cannot wait for the nest installment. 

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Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

The second book in the Vera Stanhope series, Telling Tales, centres on a cold case – the murder of young, rather promiscuous and self-confident young girl, Abigail Mantel, who is found dead on a moor. The killer, a Jeannie Long, the former girlfriend of Abigail’s father, the known and a little bit shady womaniser, Keith Mantel, is jailed for the crime she swears she didn’t commit. Fast forward 10 years, and Jeannie’s alibi is found to be solid. Alas, it’s too little, too late as this information comes after Jeannie commits suicide in jail.

Enter Vera Stanhope, untidy, nosy, larger-than-life and strong mentally and physically, who travels to the small, fictional village of Elvet with her partner Joe Ashworth to look into what is now an unsolved cold case to see if she can track down the killer. Not made to feel welcome by local colleagues, Vera nonetheless perseveres. What she finds in Elvet, apart from those who knew Abigail all those years ago including her best friend, Emma, and her family as well as the police in charge of the initial investigation but who are now retired, is a village full of intense, strange people with a propensity to tell stories about themselves and each other. It’s up to Vera to sort out fact from fiction. When someone else connected the old case is found dead, Vera needs to work harder than ever before the killer strikes again.

Wonderfully atmospheric with powerful characterisations, this novel is a treat for crime and mystery lovers, but also those who enjoy a story that lets you really sink your teeth into the people and the place. You can see the houses people live in, smell the flowers growing in the fields and hear the crack of frost upon the ground. In this second book, Vera comes into her own and what makes her tick, her self-doubts, inner convictions as well as the way she relates to people is really fleshed out.

Cleeves is such a terrific writer and I am devouring this series (like the Shetland one) with a mixture of longing and regret. Longing because I am enjoying every single word and regret because I know it will soon come to an end.

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I Let You Go by Claire MacIntosh

What a remarkable book. Simply riveting from start to finish. Little did I know what I was in for when I began to read…

One cold, English evening, a mother walks her child home from after-school care when tragedy strikes. The novel then takes two primary points of view: a grieving mother’s, Jenna Gray, and that of detective Ray Stevens. The story covers many months and the reader is taken into the dramatic changes that Jenna’s life undergoes, how she copes with her decisions and those made for her and slowly, painfully, starts to build a different future – at least she tries until the past suddenly and cruelly catches up with her.

For Ray and his team, the case that shocked and upset them slowly becomes another cold one: an unsolved crime which eats at their equilibrium. For Ray, and his new colleague, it’s particularly raw but time and crime make other demands of them, that is, until sheer persistence brings a fresh lead… a lead that challenges their faith in humans and in their skills.

This is an utterly gripping book. At one level, I suppose it is a crime/mystery book, but it is also much more than that and, in its structure and focus, it’s quite unlike any other book I’ve read before. The first half is a fantastic study in character, families, grief, desperation, guilt, and how life and relationships make and break us. How we have to live with the choices we make: good and bad. The way MacIntosh draws us into not only Jenna’s attempts to rebuild her shattered life, but also Ray’s devotion to his job, guilt over his family and the trials he and his wife, former cop, Mags face when dealing with their teenage son are raw and real. The personal relationships Ray takes for granted as well as the professional ones he does not ring true as does his self-reproach and constant second-guessing of what he could do better. Jenna’s world and Ray’s come crashing down around them for different reasons and by the time they do, you’re so invested in both of them, it’s s genuine kick in the heart. The sometimes injustice of justice is front and centre.

The second half of the book, after shocking the reader with a twist that some might see coming (I sort of did, but it was no less breath-taking because I did), introduces a new voice and a further examination of relationships and what people will tolerate, sacrifice and deny in order to save face, love, themselves. It is heart-wrenching and difficult reading at times, but it’s also impossible to put down.

The ending is a kick in the guts, nail-biting and gratifying – but also completely suspenseful. I stayed up far too late to finish it as I couldn’t bear going to sleep not knowing how the book concluded. While I imagined a dozen different scenarios, not one came as close to MacIntosh’s outstanding climax and denouement.

If you enjoy well-written mysteries, with great character development, tight plotting and believable, flawed characters, this is one you must add to your library. It is stunning.

 

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Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton

Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton, the first in the very long and popular Hamish Macbeth series, is set in the Scottish Highlands. It opens as a fishing school come together one summer, replete with divergent personalities and intentions. Clashes are inevitable, especially when one of the class, gossip columnist, Lady Jane stirs the pot by dropping hints as to various participants less than salubrious pasts. When she is found dead in a loch, suspicion falls on all the members of the fishing school and it’s up to the local plod, Constable Hamish Macbeth, to uncover the culprit.

This was a quaint book that I at first enjoyed very much in terms of character and setting, but then became frustrated with the reliance on cliché and stereotypes for character development. Cultural stereotypes particularly prevailed, with the English being snobs who looked down upon their Scottish neighbours and the Americans in the novel portrayed as mostly loud and painful. Body types likewise, also suffered from negative pigeonholing with unpleasant people being mostly overweight!!! Class is also played to type (mostly) and even Hamish, as a policeman in a quiet village, is viewed by his city counterparts as slow and incapable – which he is neither. So I found that tiresome and galling in the end.

Still, it was interesting to read book that started it all. I am still in two minds whether I’ll continue with any more…

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