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.

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.

Absolute Proof by Peter James

3.5*

Pan Macmillan|4 October 2018|570 pages|Review copy

Investigative reporter Ross Hunter nearly didn’t answer the phone call that would change his life – and possibly the world – for ever. ‘I’d just like to assure you I’m not a nutcase, Mr Hunter. My name is Dr Harry F. Cook. I know this is going to sound strange, but I’ve recently been given absolute proof of God’s existence – and I’ve been advised there is a writer, a respected journalist called Ross Hunter, who could help me to get taken seriously.’

What would it take to prove the existence of God? And what would be the consequences?

This question and its answer lie at the heart of Absolute Proof, an international thriller from bestselling author Peter James.

The false faith of a billionaire evangelist, the life’s work of a famous atheist, and the credibility of each of the world’s major religions are all under threat. If Ross Hunter can survive long enough to present the evidence . . .

Absolute Proof is a long book and at times I struggled to carry on reading as, although for the most part it is fast-paced, it is slow going in parts. And it certainly tested my ability to suspend my disbelief several times. I’ve only read two of Peter James’ books previously, both crime fiction set in Brighton featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Absolute Proof is a standalone thriller and is very different from the Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.

Ross Hunter is married to Imogen and they are expecting their first child – however he has serious doubts about his marriage and suspects Imogen of cheating on him. The story of their marriage unfolds, underlying the main plotline.  Dr Harry  F Cook, a former RAF officer and  retired history of art professor, contacts Ross and drip feeds him information that Cook claims proves that God exists.

The grid references Cook gives Hunter takes him to various places including Glastonbury, where he visits the Chalice Well in search of the Holy Grail, and Egypt in search of Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. All the time he is in danger of death as he is pursued by those who do not want Cook’s claims to be made public. It’s a dramatic and hair-raising story that made me want to know what happened next at the same time as it made me question its credibility. It is certainly thought provoking and entertaining.

One of the things that intrigued me was that in his Acknowledgements Peter James explains that the book began with a phone call he received in 1989 from someone who did indeed claim that he had been given absolute proof of God’s existence and that he had been given Peter James’s name as an author who would help him to get taken seriously. This started James’s ‘journey of exploration into what might be considered absolute proof – and just what the consequences might be.’ During the intervening years he has talked to many people from different faiths and had discussions with scientists, academics, theologians and clerics. He has certainly done his research and gives a long list of the people who have helped him, plus a list of his sources of reference, giving me yet more details of books I’d like to read.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for provided a review copy of this book.

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Ghost by Robert Harris

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

I’m currently reading The Ghost by Robert Harris, about a ghostwriter, not a tale of the supernatural.

The Ghost

 

The moment I heard how McAra died I should have walked away. I can see that now. I should have said, ‘Rick, I’m sorry, this isn’t for me, I don’t like the sound of it,’ finished my drink and left. But he was such a good storyteller, Rick – I often thought he should have been the writer and I the literary agent – that once he’s started talking there was never any question I wouldn’t listen, and by the time he had finished, I was hooked.

Blurb:

Britain’s former prime minister is holed up in a remote, ocean-front house in America, struggling to finish his memoirs, when his long-term assistant drowns. A professional ghostwriter is sent out to rescue the project – a man more used to working with fading rock stars and minor celebrities than ex-world leaders. The ghost soon discovers that his distinguished new client has secrets in his past that are returning to haunt him – secrets with the power to kill.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth retold

5*

He’s the best cop they’ve got. 

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. 

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. 

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

I haven’t read any of Jo Nesbo’s books so I wasn’t sure what to expect from his version of Macbeth, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. And it’s been a long time since I read or saw a performance of Macbeth, one of my favourite plays, but it seems to me that Jo Nesbo’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth sticks well to Shakespeare’s version (which itself wasn’t original!) – it has the same themes and plot lines.

I loved the opening of Nesbo’s version describing the rain falling on an industrial town, the second largest after Capitol. The setting is rather vague – it is somewhere in the 1970s in a fictional Scotland in a lawless town full of drug addicts, where there is a titanic struggle for control between the police force, corrupt politicians, motorbike gangs and  drug dealers.

All the characters are here, including Duncan, the new police Chief Commissioner after Kenneth was killed, Malcolm his deputy, Banquo, Macbeth’s friend and his son, Fleance, Inspector Duff (Shakespeare’s Macduff, Thane of Fife), head of the Narcotics Unit, Caithness, the three witches, Lennox and so on. And watch out for Nesbo’s version of Great Birnam Wood – I don’t want to give any spoilers here!

It’s a tragedy, like Shakespeare’s, a tale of political ambition and the destructive power it wields, a tale of love and guilt, and of enormous greed of all kinds. Inspector Macbeth, an ex-drug addict is the head of the SWAT team, ruled by his passions, violent and paranoid. He is manipulated by Hecate, Shakespeare’s chief witch, here one of the drug lords, a man with a friendly smile and cold eyes, called by some the Invisible Hand; his ‘brew’ has made him one of the town’s richest men. Macbeth is corrupted by his renewed dependency on brew and fuelled by his passion for his wife, Lady, a tall, beautiful woman with flame-red hair who whispers seductively to Macbeth that he has to kill Duncan. And there’s a mole in their midst.

This is a dark, gritty and violent tale that had me completely enthralled and I loved it. It is the first book by Jo Nesbo that I’ve read – but it won’t be the last.

Thank you to Random UK/Vintage and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Paperback: 624 pages (also available on Kindle and in Hardcover)
  • Publisher: Vintage (20 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009959806X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099598060
  • Review Copy
Note: Macbeth was first published  March 15th 2018 by Hogarth as part of  the Hogarth Shakespeare project that sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today. The series launched in October 2015 and to date will be published in twenty countries.