Leona: The Die is Cast by Jenny Rogneby

Having been sent Leona: The Die is Cast from first time novelist, Jenny Rogneby, by the publisher (thank you), I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth into a Nordic crime noir as I’m a huge fan of the fictive work coming from the north. Announced as Sweden’s Number 1 bestseller, and with a blurb set to make your blood race, I began reading.

imgres-2There’s no doubt this book is original in terms of its central crime, the “criminals” perpetrating it and in the main protagonist, Leona Lindberg a detective with a formidable reputation based in Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Division.

When a blood-covered little girl walks into a crowded bank clutching a teddy bear and plays a voice-recording demanding money, warning any who try to approach the child to stay away or else, the public imagination and collective horror of the police force, media and citizens is aroused.

The case is handed to Leona but, before she can make headway, a second robbery courtesy of the same little girl takes place. Hounded by her boss who keeps foisting extra and inexperienced staff upon her, Leona is alternately frustrated and wanting to taunt her difficult manager. If she’s just left alone, she knows she can solve this case. It doesn’t help that her home life is in a shambles, she has a gambling addiction that keeps her awake most nights and her son is seriously ill. Socially awkward and feeling trapped, Leona is desperate to solve the crime and sort out her personal life, but with the eyes of her colleagues and the media watching her every move, including a persistent journalist, it appears this strong woman might unravel before anything is resolved.

This is a well-written and mostly tautly paced novel that has the most unpleasant “hero” I have yet had the misfortune to encounter. There is little to like about Leona Lindberg. At first, I thought she was going to be like Saga from the marvellous series The Bridge. But whereas Saga has redeeming qualities (including her affable partner, Martin), and especially strong ethics, Leona doesn’t even possess these. She lies, she’s incredibly selfish, she’s disloyal and they’re her good points.

But it’s these very qualities and the fact the central protagonist is such a loathsome creature in so many ways that make this book quite compelling. You keep reading because you want to see her either get her comeuppance or compensate for the dreadful and narcissistic choices she makes.

While I didn’t feel an iota of sympathy for Leona (but did for anyone who had anything to do with her) and, frankly, rushed through a couple of sections in the novel because I simply didn’t care, I also wanted to know what was going to happen. So kudos to Rogneby for managing to construct a story that, despite its main character, still has you wanting to keep reading.

There’s no doubt, Leona is a juggler who has to work hard to keep all the balls she keeps throwing up in the air – and Rogneby even harder. I wasn’t entirely convinced by what started out as a resolution to Leona’s case but when it quickly segued into the opening for another instalment in what’s going to be a series, I saw where Rogneby is going and hats off to her.

I think I have to recover from this novel before I decide if I continue to follow Leona’s (mis)adventures. I know I needed a hot shower after this one and that was because for a cop, this woman makes the reader feel dirty – and not in any sexual kind of way, but in a grubby horrid one. Another reason why the tale is so unique.

Recommended for anyone who wants an original take on a strong genre with a woman unlike any other in the lead.

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The Lake House by Kate Morton

There’s both comfort and security picking up the work of an author you not only love, but know has the ability to transport you to a different time and place – Kate Morton is one of those authors and her latest novel, The Lake House, that kind of book.

9781742376516-669x1024Set in two different time periods – basically, Cornwall prior to and during WWI and London and Cornwall in 2003 (as well as brief glimpses to other decades/years), the tale has many of the ingredients we’ve come to know and love from a Morton book. There’s the magnificent house filled with nooks and crannies and, of course, secrets, hidden amidst a marvellous setting of tangled woods, a sun-dappled lake with surging seas in the distance. Cue a family of four gorgeous children with a loving mother and father, a bitter old grandmother, a depressive but faithful older friend who once wrote a successful children’s book featuring the mother of the family as his heroine, a handsome young gardener and protective nurse who live beneath the roof of this house and you have a recipe for, in Morton’s hands, an enigmatic disaster.

Move forward seventy odd years. When detective Sadie Sparrow, a dedicated London-based police officer who has taken a serious career mis-step and been forced to take time off work stumbles upon the now decaying lake house while staying with her beloved grandfather, Bertie, in Cornwall, she knows she’s found something to take her mind off her own misfortune.

Learning that the wealthy and happy Edevane family lived in the house until the youngest child, 11-month old Theo, disappeared one Mid-summer’s Eve, never to be seen again, Sadie determines to get the bottom of the mystery.

And so Sadie opens up her own investigation into the past, a past that surviving members of the Edevane family, including famous crime novelist and octogenarian, Alice Edevane, whose very first novel was about a baby who vanishes, would prefer left alone.

Segueing between the present and Sadie’s complex personal and professional situation and the discoveries about the Edevane family she makes, and moving back to pre 1914 and the formation of the Edevane family itself, the mystery of Theo’s fate is slowly and beautifully unravelled.

Readers learn how his mother, the lovely and headstrong Eleanor, meets the dashing and clever, Anthony. We are privy to the births of their children, the three girls and baby Theo. We understand the love and trust Eleanor and Anthony bear for Mr Llewellyn, but also the rancour and distance they feel towards Eleanor’s rather embittered mother, Constance. As we learn about the Edevanes and those who share the house with them, we’re given insights into how the war impacts upon the family and what lies beneath the apparent picture of perfection and happiness they all present.

Once again, the house is as much a character as any of the people who are beautifully and richly drawn. Atmospheric, Morton’s way of describing characters and place brings them to life in the mind’s eye and allows your senses to respond to each person and scene. We smell the blooms, hear the pounding of the ocean, feel the slippery reeds in the cool lake as they wrap around ankles; we experience the first pangs of love, the steadfastness of loyalty promised and fulfilled, the guilt when personal expectations fail and above all, the fear and dread that war and its aftermath brings in its wake.

This is a novel about families, secrets, regrets, promises, failings and so much more. It’s about how decisions of the past impinge upon the present. It’s about consequences, truth and lies and how running from your past is virtually impossible. As the adage goes, it has a way of catching up – and when you least expect it.

It’s also about women and motherhood and it’s in exploring these themes and the issues they raise – and over different historical and social periods – that Morton excels. Far from offering a series of binaries through which to understand women’s choices, painting a portrait of perfect or imperfect motherhood, or presenting a treatise on the failings of or superiority of one type of mothering or the vogue of a specific period compared to another, Morton examines motherhood from the inside out. The stultifying and shattering effects of patriarchy and war on family, as well as ways of liberating oneself and your offspring from these are measured, as is the extent to which mothers will go in order to do the best for their children and for the fathers who also love them. Yes, there’s guilt, self-sacrifice and a surrendering of the self in order to achieve what seems so often impossible, raising another human within shifting familial, social and cultural principles, to be balanced, happy and resilient, but there’s also internal ambivalence, a longing for the person you once were to emerge, even if that threatens to topple a carefully built edifice and undermine painstakingly laid foundations. But there’s also fleeting recognition that wearing a mask – of competency, social orderliness, happiness, no regrets – is an illusion that can do as much damage as adhering to it can avoid confrontation and the possibility of change. There are many different types of women and mothers in the book and a range of motivations offered for decisions reached. It’s easy to recognise aspects of yourself – and the children these women raise – in them all.

Captivating and heart-wrenching at times, The Lake House was a wonderful read. My only reservation is the ending is so damn neat – a bit too pat. I shed a tear as knotty threads were unravelled and mysteries solved, and while I didn’t see some of the twists coming, others I did and felt the resolutions were sometimes too perfect. It was very difficult to suspend my disbelief. The novel explored the imperfections of life so well, and then rounded out the tale by ignoring that which was so beautifully investigated. Not that this will stop me recommending this book or continuing to feel delight at what it offered – pure escapism.


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