The Island by Ragnar Jónasson

Nordic Noir – dark, chilling and utterly gripping

The Island (Hidden Iceland #2)

Penguin UK Michael Joseph|4 April 2019|313 pages|Review copy|5*

I was delighted to receive a review copy of  The Island by Ragnar Jónasson from the publishers.  

This is my first book by Ragnar Jónasson. I discovered after I’d read it that it’s the second in his Hidden Iceland series – but I had no difficulty reading it as a standalone novel. It begins with a Prologue that indicates that the main story has elements of horror as well as mystery. It’s unsettling and sinister.

Four friends visit the isolated island of Elliðaey off the coast of Iceland, ten years after the murder of a fifth friend, Katla, but only three of them return. One of them, Klara, fell to her death from a cliff – but did she jump or was she pushed? Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is sent to investigate. She realises that there are similarities with the death of Katla. A suspect had been charged, but had committed suicide before the verdict was announced and the case had been closed. But are the two murders connected, even though they are ten years apart?

Hulda is an interesting character, with a back story that is only partly revealed in this book. Her name means ‘hidden woman‘. The first book in the series dealt with her later life, with this second book going back in time to her earlier life. In The Island she lives alone, her mother having recently died and there is a mystery about her father. She only knows that he was an American soldier and part of the novel records her search for him. It’s a police procedural, so Hulda’s somewhat fractious relationships with her colleagues also form part of the story.

The narrative also switches between the deaths of the two young women ten years apart, told from the various characters’ perspectives. They present an intricate mystery that Hulda gradually unravels, sifting through the lies that the suspects tell her. It’s not a fast-paced novel, but it is full of suspense and foreboding, set against the beautiful and dramatic Icelandic landscape. One by one I suspected each character, unsure who to believe. I loved it!

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK Michael Joseph for my review copy via NetGalley.

A Snapshot of Murder by Frances Brody

A Snapshot of Murder (Kate Shackleton #10)

 

Crooked Lane Books |19 April 2019|Print length 339 pages|e-book review copy|3*

Blurb (Amazon):

Yorkshire, 1928. Indomitable sleuth Kate Shackleton is taking a well-deserved break from her detective work and indulging in her other passion: photography. When her local Photographic Society proposes an outing, Kate jumps at the chance to visit Haworth and Stanbury, in the heart of Brontë country, the setting for Wuthering Heights.

But when an obnoxious member of their party is murdered, the group is thrown into disarray. Is the murderer amongst them, or did the loud-mouthed Tobias have more enemies than they might have imagined?

Armed with her wit and wiles, and of course her trusty camera, it’s up to Kate to crack the case, and get that perfect shot too . . .

A Snapshot of Murder by  Francis Brody is the 10th in her Kate Shackleton series. I’ve read three of her earlier books and I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this one as much. I think, though, that the setting is excellent, particularly in Haworth when the Bronte Parsonage Museum was opened in 1928. But I was disappointed to find that the murder could have taken place anywhere – it no connection to the Brontes, or to the opening of the Museum, apart from the fact that the murderer took advantage of being in a crowd of people and managed to slip away unnoticed. 

I like Kate Shackleton – she’s a competent private investigator, but the murder mystery was too easy to solve. It began well but it was obvious who was going to end up dead and although there are several suspects, it soon became obvious who the culprit was and my interest waned. And any sympathy I had for the murderer had just disappeared by the end of the book.

My thanks to the publishers, Crooked Lane Books for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker by Jenni Keer

Meet Lucy, aged 25, and Brenda, aged 79. Neighbours, and unlikely friends.

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker

Avon Books UK|10 January 2019|Print length 309 pages|e-book Review copy|4*

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is a romantic novel with a touch of magic about it. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would as it’s a bit lighter than the type of book I usually prefer. But it has a feel-good factor and also gives a sympathetic and understanding picture of the problems of living with dementia. And as you can tell from the heading of my post this is a novel about friendship. It’s also about family relationships, love, caring for others and the importance of finding your own inner strength.

I like Lucy – she’s a cat lover and an excellent knitter and also a kind, warm-hearted and generous character. At the beginning she lacks self-confidence and finds it difficult to assert herself both with her overbearing mother and in her job at Tompkins Toy Workshop. Her friendship with Brenda helps her develop a sense of her own self worth. I also like Brenda, with her purple-streaked silvery hair, and a love of rainbow clothes; in a previous age she would probably have been called a ‘wise woman’ or even a ‘white witch’ with her herbal remedies, potions and lotions. But when she is diagnosed with dementia she realises that her life will inevitably change.

And more change is on the way when a new neighbour, George, moves into the house next door to Brenda and a scruffy black cat finds it way into the neighbourhood. It was not a huge surprise to me how things would turn out when Brenda gave Lucy a silver locket that when opened revealed words engraved in an ornate script. Brenda explains it’s a special locket that will boost Lucy’s confidence at work and with her mother and also help her find her true love.

Lucy’s confidence improves and her creative side begins to blossom. I loved all the details of Lucy’s job at Tompkins, where she works in the sales office and her friend, Jess who works in accounts. There’s plenty of office banter and gossip as well as disputes and misunderstandings. But things are about to change there too as a new general manager, Sam is appointed.

The characters are sympathetically drawn, the dialogue is realistic and there are plenty of amusing and moving scenes. I was thoroughly entertained and absorbed in the story, from the beginning, with the knitted figures of Poldark, Ed Sheeran, Harry Potter and Wolverine sitting on Lucy’s sofa, to the final scenes when Lucy realises that ‘true love is the real magic.’

This is Jenni Keer’s debut novel and I hope to read more of her books in the future.

About Jenni Keer (from her website):

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‘After gaining a history degree, Jenni Keer embarked on an interesting career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her antique-restorer husband and their four teenage boys. She has valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework, but it remains a mystery, so is more usually found at her keyboard writing fun romantic comedies with #blindcat Seymour by her side. When not up to her elbows in family life, she can be found busy with her Edwardian marquetry business, planning her next fancy dress party or practising her formation dance moves.’

My thanks to the publishers, Avon Books UK for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister

A brilliant psychological thriller

The Evidence Against You

Penguin Michael Joseph|18 April 2019|432 pages|Review copy|5*

I was delighted to receive a review copy of  The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister from the publishers.  And as soon as I began reading it I knew I was going to love it and I just didn’t want to stop reading until I’d finished it. It’s the third book I’ve read by her (her earlier books I’ve read are Everything But the Truth and No Further Questions). 

Gabe (Gabriel) English has been released from prison on parole, having served seventeen years for the murder of his wife, Alexandra. Izzy, his daughter, now 36, is dreading his release. Following the death of her mother she had lived with her maternal grandparents until she married Nick, a police analyst and had carried on running her mother’s restaurant on the Isle of Wight.

Her childhood had been a happy one until the murder. The judge said it was an open and shut case and he had sentenced Gabe to life imprisonment. But nobody really knew exactly what had happened the night Alexandra was killed – she simply went missing and then her body was found – she’d been strangled. Izzy had thought that her father could never have harmed anybody, let alone her mother. Now, he swears that he is innocent and wants to tell his side of it. He asks her to consider the evidence for herself. But is he really guilty – can she trust her father?

This is a brilliant book that had me guessing all the way through. I was hoping for Izzy’s sake that Gabe was telling the truth even though the facts didn’t seem to back him up. Prison had changed him – he is angry, bitter and resentful – and Izzy is full of doubts about him and about her parents’ relationship. She questions her memories – what had seemed straight forward and certain to her before, now appears in a different light. But Paul, her father’s friend believes him, telling Izzy that some of the evidence was circumstantial, so she gives him the chance to explain, especially when Paul tells her that there was a witness who could have given Gabe an alibi if the police had found him.

It’s a character-driven story of conflict, of broken lives, of the destruction of families, and of devastating trauma as secrets from the past come to the surface; a story full of twists and turns that left me hoping so much that Gabe was innocent and wondering if he hadn’t killed Alexandra who had and why.

As well as the mystery it’s also about the catastrophic effects of being accused of a crime and being imprisoned long enough to become institutionalised, particularly on release from prison. Gabe finds simple things like shopping difficult and as well as being angry and bitter he is anxious and fearful, struggling with making decisions without the rules and discipline of being in prison.

It’s a tense, tightly plotted book and completely compelling reading.  The ending did take me by surprise, although looking back I can see that it was lightly foreshadowed and I just hadn’t noticed. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. 

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK Michael Joseph for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Lost Letter from Morocco by Adrienne Chinn

The Lost Letter From Morocco

Avon Books UK|7 March 2019|Print length 416 pages|e-book Review copy|2*

Blurb:

Morocco, 1984. High in the Atlas Mountains, Hanane’s love for Irishman Gus is forbidden. Forced to flee her home with the man she loves, Hanane is certain she’s running towards her destiny. But she has made a decision that will haunt her family for years to come.

London, 2009. When Addy discovers a mysterious letter in her late father’s belongings, she journeys to Morocco in search of answers. But instead, she finds secrets – and is quickly pulled into a world that she doesn’t understand.

And when history starts to repeat itself, it seems her journey might just change the person she is forever…

My thoughts:

Reading the blurb I thought The Lost Letter from Morocco by Adrienne Chinn sounded an interesting book set in a country I know very little about. The setting in Morocco is well described, although in places it comes across as more of a travel and cultural guide than a novel and I liked that much more than the rest of the book. So, I’m sad to say that this book did not live up to my expectations and it was a disappointment.

Set in two time frames the narrative moves between Addy’s and Haldane’s stories. In 2009 Addy is recovering from cancer and conscious of how short life can be she has decided to sell her flat, leave Nigel, her cheating boyfriend, and her job in a photography shop to work on a travel book. Her father had recently died and in his belongings she finds an unfinished letter addressed to her from him, together with several photos of Morocco, including a photo of him with an arm around a young woman. On the back of the photo her father had written ‘Zitoune waterfalls, Morocco, August 1984 – with Hanane.‘ Haldane is clearly pregnant. Seeing her father’s photos of Morocco she decides that is the place to go to try to find out what had happened to Haldane and at the same time to work on her travel book.

I was keen to find out what Addy would discover. However, what followed is a rambling and repetitive story about Addy and Omar, a tour guide, and their relationship. It was slowed down with too much detail and I began to lose interest and at several points I almost abandoned the book. Omar is a an annoying character, bossy and possessive with Addy, who for a 40 year old woman is incredibly naive, even given that she is recovering from cancer and from her broken relationship with Nigel. I was much more interested in Gus and Haldane’s story and was frustrated by having to wade through the details of Addy’s and Omar’s relationship as she discovered what had happened in 1984. The twist at the end made me even more disappointed that the story had not focused on Haldane’s story.

My thanks to the publishers, Avon Books UK for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Family Secret by Tracy Buchanan

The Family Secret

Avon Books UK|10 January 2019|Print length 400 pages|e-book Review copy|3*

The Family Secret by Tracy Buchanan is the first of her books that I’ve read. Although I liked it, I didn’t love it, but maybe that’s because it is romantic fiction, a genre that I don’t read very often.

It’s an emotional family drama set in two timelines. The narrative switches between the two periods – one in 2009 written in the third person present tense and the other in 1989 – 1996 in the first person past tense, so the timelines are easily distinguishable. The two storylines eventually merge. However, it begins with a prologue in which an unnamed woman drowns in a frozen lake, watched by an unnamed man. As I read on I was wondering who they were and what had led up to that scene and how it fitted into the main part of the book.

There are plenty of secrets and several twists in the story. In 2009, Amber Caulfield comes across a young girl, stumbling along the beach at Winterton Chine on the south coast of England, not wearing a coat or shoes and unable to remember who she is, or how she got there. Amber who has her own problems decides to help her remember who she is and to reunite her with her family.

The second storyline, beginning in 1989 is full of secrets too. Gwyneth is a wildlife documentary filmmaker who gets lost as she’s driving in the Scottish Highlands. She comes across a lodge overlooking a loch. It’s Christmas Eve, freezing cold and snowing, so she decides to ask for help, but seeing a ptarmigan gets out her camera to film the bird and steps onto the frozen loch, the ice cracks and she falls into the water. Fortunately she is rescued by Dylan McClusky and taken in by his family. She is made welcome but it soon becomes apparent that this is a dysfunctional family with a number of problems and secrets. Gwyneth too has a troubled background and a big secret that she keeps well hidden.

 It’s a novel about love, loss and guilt, but it’s a bit too predictable for my liking, with rather too many coincidences that weren’t very convincing. But it’s an easy and enjoyable book to read and it kept my interest to the endI liked the vivid descriptions of the landscape and wildlife both in the Scottish Highlands and in Iceland in the depths of winter, bringing the settings to life.

My thanks to the publishers, Avon Books UK for my review copy via NetGalley.

My Friday Post: A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring one of my TBRs, A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre. It’s non-fiction about four young British soldiers who were trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. 

A Foreign Field

It begins with a Prologue:

Prologue

The glutinous mud of Picardy caked at my shoe-soles like mortar, and damp seeped into my socks as the rain spilled from an ashen sky. Ina patch of cow-trodden pasture beside the little town of Le Catelet we stared out from beneath a canopy of umbrellas at a pitted chalk rampart, the ivy-strangled remnant of a vast medieval castle, to which a small plaque had been nailed: ‘Ici ont été fusillés quatre soldats Britannique.’ Four British soldiers were executed by firing squad on this spot.

Followed by Chapter One – The Angels of Mons:

On a balmy evening at the end of August in the year 1914, four young soldiers of the British army – two English and two Irish  – crouched in terror under a hedgerow near the Somme river in northern France, painfully adjusting to the realisation that they were profoundly lost, adrift in a briefly tranquil no-man’s land somewhere between their retreating comrades and the rapidly advancing German army, the largest concentration of armed men the world had ever seen.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Local gossips thought that Jeanne was a’racy’ type; she smoked cigarettes, drove an automobile without gloves on, and treated everybody with exactly the same direct, penetrating and faintly lofty manner, usually from the saddle.

~~~

I enjoyed reading Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat about the Allies’ deception plan code-named Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily, so I’m hoping I’ll like this one too.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?