Clare Carson- The Dark Isle

Sam grew up in the shadow of the secret state. Her father was an undercover agent, full of tall stories about tradecraft and traitors. Then he died, killed in the line of duty. Now Sam has travelled to Hoy, in Orkney, to piece together the puzzle of her father’s past. Haunted by echoes of childhood holidays, Sam is sure the truth lies buried here, somewhere. What she finds is a tiny island of dramatic skies, swooping birds, rugged sea stacks and just four hundred people. An island remote enough to shelter someone who doesn’t want to be found. An island small enough to keep a secret…

Having been utterly bewitched by Orkney Twilight and The Salt Marsh , it was with some trepidation that I embarked on The Dark Isle as I desperately wanted to be as in awe of this book as the previous two. I’m pleased to say that my fears were completely groundless and Clare Carson has triumphed once again…

The Dark Isle moves seamlessly between two timelines spanning the intensely hot summer of 1976, and the political unrest of 1989, with the poll tax demonstrations firmly rooting us in this particular period. Likewise, the story pivots between London and Orkney within both periods of time, with Carson once again demonstrating her particular skill in scene setting and atmosphere, so unlike other books with split timelines , the reader is instantly transported to, and settled within the locations, even without the date stamps on the chapters. Carson’s depiction of landscape, weather and nature,  is completely entrancing as ever. The rugged wilderness of Hoy which seems to teeter on the edge of the earth is as vital and real as the suburban streets of London that Sam frequents in her formative years, and affords Carson ample opportunity to showcase both, and how they impact on, and play such an important part in Sam’s realisation of the world as a whole, and within her own troubled and secretive family history.

In the London scenes, Carson adopts the viewpoint of a flaneur, with the careful demarcation of Sam’s stomping grounds both as a child and as a young woman. In the wilds of the Scottish Isles, Carson casts Sam as an old style explorer as she works to uncover real history through archaeology, and her own personal history whose secrets lie buried in this  mystical and  unforgiving terrain. The locations are absolutely intrinsic to the development of the storylines, and play as much of a role as any character contained within its pages. There are precise and naturalistic descriptions of flora and fauna which flow beautifully in and out of the narrative, giving a sharp vitality and visual panorama to the reader. Carson weaves in mythical tales, adding to the sense of unknowing that permeates the book, and subtly enlightening the reader on folklore which still remains totally in keeping with the story.

Sam is a complex and engaging character, and this book is no exception. There’s a quote that says “Be like a spy. Keep your true self hidden,” and one that Sam along with other characters all seem to adhere to. With her father’s influence, as a shadowy and secretive undercover operative, I found it fascinating how despite losing him some years previously this influence has steadily increased in her own psyche, and how the more subtle aspects of his personality are revealed in Sam from time to time. She is resourceful, determined, not unnaturally brave, and refreshingly susceptible to the duplicity of others. There’s a realism and truthfulness to her character, that makes us admire her gumption, and empathise with her less glorious moments of naivety, and I have a great affection for her as a character. So as not to unwittingly reveal anything, all I would say to the other protagonists who encourage or seek to thwart Sam’s efforts, is that you will be surprised and frustrated by their various deceptions, and most importantly as you’re reading…trust no one…

I suspect that I will have a similar trepidation when I read Clare Carson’s next book, having been so enamoured with this series to date, but I’m willing to endure it! The Dark Isle is another great addition to this beautifully written series, and I would recommend all three books heartily. Great storytelling, pitch perfect plotting, and a wonderful sense of time and place. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to the author and Head of Zeus for the ARC)

 

Blog Tour- Doug Johnstone- Crash Land

41iatw0focl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Sitting in the departure lounge of Kirkwall Airport, Finn Sullivan just wants to get off Orkney. But then he meets the mysterious and dangerous Maddie Pierce, stepping in to save her from some unwanted attention, and his life is changed forever…

I must confess that when I initially read the book description, my first thought was, ‘ well, this doesn’t sound like a Doug Johnstone book to me,’ having been completely blown away by the sensitivity and raw emotion of his previous book The Jump . However,  the Raven’s slightly ruffled feathers were quickly smoothed, as after the initial seat-of-your-pants scenes of an air crash in the seemingly tranquil peace of Orkney,  my equanimity was quickly restored…

Drawing on my earlier comment, I think what Crash Land demonstrates so effectively is the flexibility of Johnstone as a writer. With his main protagonists of Finn and Maddie, and the intensity of the relationship that builds between them as events unfurl, Johnstone confidently, and most importantly believably, draws together two people so defined by their differences of experience into a claustrophobic and tense relationship. Finn is a naïve, slightly gauche young man, who, as is the wont of young men generally, is initially attracted to Maddie on a primal level. Maddie, older, experienced and obviously a woman carrying a burden of emotional torment, realises the usefulness of this  young man’s infatuation with her, as her plans for escape from Orkney are thwarted. Johnstone carefully builds up this symbiosis between them, as Finn finds himself in the unwelcome spotlight of the police and the media, following the plane crash, and Maddie’s complicated emotional ties, and possible acts of violence come to light. Finn puts the reader through some emotional upheaval, at times being a sensitive young man, who was deeply affected by the death of his mother and attachment to his grandmother , and then being so boundlessly naïve you want to put him in a sack and shake him. I found Maddie an intriguing and mercurial character, who manipulates our feelings as a reader as much as she draws in the hapless Finn, proving there is much more to her than meets the eye…

The landscape of Orkney and the Scottish isles in general, has proved itself a rich hunting ground for many British crime authors, as its similarity to the bleak Scandinavian terrain affords ample opportunity for psychological exploration. Johnstone has obviously immersed himself fully in the unique topography and history of Orkney, as the clarity and authenticity of his depiction of the landscape, people and spiritual and mythical backdrop of the island shines through every description. I loved the evocation of the island’s history and the way it has shaped its hardy souls in terms of their stoicism and mental toughness, as the sea and elemental weather conditions rage around them. Johnstone confidently mirrors the bleakness and raw beauty of the island in the psychological travails of his protagonists, and the more nefarious activities that the remoteness of this location lends itself to. The descriptive element of this book is never less than perfect, and Johnstone uses it to its full effect.

With consummate skill Johnstone takes his reader from a high octane, emotionally charged opening, then slowing the pace radically to provide a thoughtful and intriguing exploration of the relationship between Finn and Maddie, and our changing perceptions of both. By weaving together these two elements so effectively, alongside the pitch perfect depiction of the mercurial nature of  Orkney itself , Crash Land ticked all the boxes for this reader, and proved a satisfying and engaging thriller. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with or continue to follow the tour at these excellent sites:

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A Quick Round-Up- Clare Carson, Hans Olav Lahlum, David Lagercrantz, Bram Dehouck, Simon Toyne

With the end of the year so rapidly approaching, and a pretty full-on work schedule to accompany it, thought that instead of just staring at the pile of the books that still need reviewing, I should really be getting on with it. Short and sweet reviews coming up…

carson Jim is a brilliant raconteur whose stories get taller with each glass of whisky. His daughter Sam thinks it’s time she found out the truth about her dad. On holiday in Orkney, Sam spies on Jim as he travels across the island. What has he hidden in the abandoned watchtower? Who is he meeting in the stone circle at dusk? And why is he suddenly obsessed with Norse myths? As Sam is drawn into Jim’s shadowy world, she begins to realise that pursuing the truth is not as simple as it seems.

I heard Clare Carson speaking at a crime event earlier this year, and at last have read her debut thriller, Orkney Twilight and what a rare treat it was. From the outset I found myself completely involved in the unique father-daughter relationship between the shadowy and almost unknowable Jim and the feisty and sharp witted Sam. I loved the way that Carson explores their relationship throughout the book, as their paths of trust and mutual empathy converge and diverge, as the secrets that Jim carries, in his work as an undercover police officer, begin to impact on Sam, as she seeks to discover more about her father. The interactions and dialogue that Carson conjures around them is made all the more powerful by the invisible gaps that have appeared through long periods of estrangement, and there is a real sense of two people so utterly alike behaving as if the opposite was true. I was utterly entranced from start to finish, not only by the strength of the characterisation, with a relatively small cast of protagonists, and the engaging plot, but by the lyrical quality of the prose, underscored by the allusions to Norse myth and Scottish folklore and the beautiful realisation of location throughout. There is a subtle claustrophobia woven into the book, not only in the realms of human understanding, but played out cleverly at odds under the large skies of the Scottish isles that hold sway over much of the action. Outstanding.

(I bought this copy of Orkney Twilight)

human-flies-978144723276601Oslo, 1968. Ambitious young detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen is called to an apartment block, where a man has been found murdered. The victim, Harald Olesen, was a legendary hero of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation and at first it is difficult to imagine who could have wanted him dead. But as Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen (known as K2) begins to investigate, it seems clear that the murderer could only be one of Olesen’s fellow tenants in the building. Soon, with the help of Patricia – a brilliant young woman confined to a wheelchair following a terrible accident – K2 will begin to untangle the web of lies surrounding Olesen’s neighbours; each of whom, it seems, had their own reasons for wanting Olesen dead. Their interviews, together with new and perplexing clues, will lead K2 and Patricia to dark events that took place during the Second World War.

Again, I’m a little late to the party with this one, but having already purchased the next two in the series, Satellite People and The Catalyst Killing, shortly after finishing this, you can tell I was impressed. With a more than obvious nod to the heyday of the Golden Age, Lahlum has cooked up a wonderful blend of Christie-esque plotting, with a traditional locked room mystery. With the action centred on an Oslo apartment block with its finite number of inhabitants, Lahlum carefully constructs a tale of secrets, lies and totally captures the whole notion of the sins of the past resonating in the present. As each inhabitants true character and devilish motivations for murder come to the fore in the course of the investigation, Lahlum invites us to play detective along with K2 to uncover a murderer. The writing is crisp, playful at times, and exceedingly dark at others. Although I did guess the killer relatively early on in the book, I did enjoy the little twists in the narrative which did make me doubt the cleverness of my own deductions, and with the formidable duo of keen detective, and his wonderfully barbed relationship with the spiky, but keenly intelligent Patricia was a joy to read. Excellent.

(I bought this copy of The Human Flies)

9780857053503 Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Regular visitors to my blog have probably noticed my reticence to review more of the widely hyped and talked about books of the year, and such was the case with this book on its release. With a torrent of global reviews, and probably the most talked about book of the year, resurrecting the ghost of the marvellous Stieg Larsson, I will just add a little note on my experience of the book. As the start of a proposed trilogy, and the brilliant premise of keeping Lisbeth and Mikael away from each other as long as possible in the course of the book, Lagercrantz truly grabbed the bull by the horns in seeking to emulate Larsson’s writing style. I was very convinced by it, and felt he really captured the flow and narrative style of one of the most compelling and much loved crime thriller trilogies that Europe has produced. I thought the author captured the nuances of character, socio-political concerns and pure narrative tension so resonant of the original books. There were some nice little allusions to previous events, and the quirks in the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael that we are so familiar with throughout. The plot was well-crafted, intelligent and exposed some hidden aspects of the scientific and social media worlds in a thought provoking and highly interesting way, whilst never losing sight of keeping the continuity and feel of the original books. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

ssSeasons come and go in provincial Blaashoek, where the town’s superficial harmony is upended by the arrival of a wind park – a blessing for some, a curse for others. The irritating hum of the turbines keeps butcher Herman Bracke, known far and wide for his delicious ‘summer paté’, awake at night. He falls prey to a deadly fatigue and gradually loses control over his work, setting off a series of blood-curdling events, with fatal consequences for the townspeople. Life in Blaashoek will never be the same again.

Now it’s time for one of my weird and wonderful discoveries in the world of bijou but perfect European crime thrillers. Winner of the Golden Noose and the Knack Hercule Poirot Readers’ Prize, this is a twisted little tale of country folk in the small community of Blaashoek. An early warning should be given that despite its brevity this is not a read for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach! It’s bloody, blunt, scatological in detail, and near the knuckle, but with a charming echo of the style and black humour of my much beloved Pascal Garnier, I couldn’t resist it (albeit with some squirming in my seat whilst reading). The characters are perversely charming, but brutally despatched at regular intervals, and I loved Dehouck’s construction of this small community with its petty jealousies, suspicions and the dark events that ensue as modern technology encroaches on their closed lives. It’s like the blackest version of Midsomer Murders you could possibly imagine, infused with the dark, psychological tinge of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction, and I loved it. Yes I did. Loved it.

(With thanks to World Editions Ltd for the ARC)

And finally…

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A plane crashes in the Arizona desert.

One lone figure emerges alive from the wreckage.

He has no memory of his past, and no idea of his future.

He only knows he must save a man.

But how do you save someone who is already dead?

I am now going to admit to a serious, but entirely flattering from of blog envy. On its release many of us participated in the blog tour for Solomon Creed, with a series of interviews, guest posts by Mr Toyne as well as a plethora of reviews. Having posted a guest article as part of the tour, I was more than ready to commit my own views on the book to screen, but then I read this review by Matt at  Readerdad.co.uk Not only is this one of my favourite reviews by a fellow blogger it’s been my pleasure to read this year, but it also so closely mirrors my own thoughts on the book, that it seems foolish to submit a pretty identical review! Like Matt, I was totally swept up in the location of the book, the unerring mystery surrounding the enigmatic central character of Solomon himself, and held in thrall by Toyne’s interweaving of religious precepts and the feel of the book as a reworking of Solomon as an ‘everyman’  fused with medieval quest, that so powerfully defines the canon of English literature. It is a masterful and intelligent thriller, with slight echoes of Stephen King and Lee Child, but still set apart from these and others that populate the current thriller market that you are in for a treat. Hats off to Mr Toyne once again and take a bow sir….

(With thanks to Mr Toyne waylaid in a hotel foyer for the ARC)