Anna Mazzola- The Story Keeper

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories. Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds. Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before…

Having thoroughly enjoyed Anna Mazzola’s debut, The Unseeing based on an historical murder case, I was more than intrigued to see what would come next from the author. Suffice to say that this glorious mix of the gothic and the folkloric more than hit the spot…

Once again, the breadth of Mazzola’s historical research is clearly in evidence again, using the backdrop of 19th century Skye to weave this dark and mysterious tale. Melding together the utter poverty wrought by the infamous land clearances of the period, the chasm between rich and poor, and the superstitious belief in folklore, Mazzola paints a vivid picture of the period which has a vivid clarity, and transports the reader effortlessly to this moment in time. I absolutely loved the rendering of the folkloric tales, that Audrey is employed to collect and catalogue, and the natural compulsion displayed by the crofting community to withhold these tales from prying outsiders, leading Audrey to chip away at this reluctance to satisfy her strange and eccentric employer Miss Buchanan. Equally, the interweaving of Gaelic history, and the reduced livelihoods of the local inhabitants adds further colour and context to the story, but there is an even more vital strand to this book concerning Audrey herself.

Audrey has fled from London unchaperoned to take up this position, causing us instantly to wonder at the reasons for such ‘unladylike’ behaviour, and here a very important story arc is revealed. Mazzola uses Audrey’s story, and that of other young women she encounters in Skye, to really cut to the grist of the position of women in this period in society. Without giving too much away, the patriarchal, male oriented society is very much the catalyst for her escape, and her story is poignant and thought provoking, allowing Mazzola to explore the extreme emotional and financial hardship that Audrey and other women experience, and the abuses and indignities they suffer. I found this theme in the book very emotive, and with a modern sensibility felt a righteous anger on their behalf. As the abuses in the local community come to light, Audrey is compelled to intervene and defend the right of these women for justice, placing herself in extreme danger too, and as the sense of peril builds, with a beautifully weighted feel of gothic suspense, there are some extremely dark misdemeanours to reveal.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Story Keeper, and as each layer of the story was peeled back, and different facets of the everyday existence of this community was brought to light there was an enhanced level of interest throughout the book. With it’s curious mix of the ordinary, the strange, the gap between rich and poor, mental illness, and the inherent danger to, and tacit subservience of women in this period, I was held in a state of fascination from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Tinder Press to the ARC)

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)

 

#BlogTour- J. G. Sinclair- Walk In Silence

Keira Lynch may be a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean she plays by the rules. She has been summoned to give evidence against an Albanian hit man. She was there the night he murdered the mother of a five-year-old boy. She remembers it well – it was the same night he put three bullets in her chest and left her for dead.
But there are powerful people who want the hit man back on the streets. When they kidnap the boy, she is given a choice: commit perjury, blow the trial and allow the killer to walk or give evidence, convict him and watch the child die. Keira must make a decision. This time, does she have to cross a line to win?

Following Seventy Times Seven and Blood Whispers, this is the third of J. G. Sinclair’s crime thrillers featuring the character of forthright and feisty Irish lawyer Keira Lynch. Lynch is juggling the dual concerns of an explosive court case back in her adopted city of Glasgow, but also tracking down the whereabouts of an orphaned boy in Albania to provide a better future for him after the violent death of his mother. Still recovering from the violent events recounted in the previous book, once again Lynch is in a killer’s sights, and must call on all her mental and physical strength to outwit the bad guys…

Quite honestly I could just say that I absolutely blooming loved this, and leave it at that, but as this is not an Amazon review, although I did receive the book well-packaged, I will share a little more with you. J. G. Sinclair was speaking at a recent crime festival, and said that his writing was incredibly influenced by the visual nature of the scenes and how this committed itself to the page, and I was incredibly struck throughout by the very strong sense of scene setting that Sinclair ingrains in his book. Be it the austere surrounds of a Glasgow courtroom, the terrace of a hotel in Albania, or a small village in which one particularly beautifully described building houses a horrific discovery. A sense of location and atmosphere suffuses the book consistently throughout, giving added depth and colour behind the central action as a backdrop to the increasingly precarious and dangerous situation that Lynch finds herself involved in.

The plot is utterly compelling, bolstered to some degree by the strength of Lynch’s character, but more simply that Sinclair has a knack for pure thrilling storytelling. There are bad guys, good guys, good guys that could be bad and vice versa, and the relentless pressure of Lynch’s mission to rescue this small child, and seek justice for his murdered mother driving the plot on at a furious pace. The violence is swift and uncompromising, but unlike many thrillers I have read where the degree of violence visited on one woman seems somewhat incredulous, Lynch is very much physically capable to meet violence with violence. Aside from her physical prowess, and her amazing knife skills, she is strong, mentally resilient and quick witted, continually assessing, planning, premeditating  and changing tactics to overcome the peril she finds herself in. She’s also a pretty good lawyer. And justifiably killed a man when she was a small girl. She’s great.

I read Walk In Silence at a frenetic pace, as the speed and energy of Sinclair’s writing, just pushes you on mercilessly, and avoiding spoilers I think the ending could be an interesting set-up for a new fork in Lynch’s life. Action, spills, thrills and some emotional depth it has to be said, amongst the maelstrom of violence and duplicity. Great thriller. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

February 2017 Round-Up + more… and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)After a little hiatus in January, my reading rate has improved significantly, but alas, I am still a little off the pace in terms of reviewing. So, I’m going to cheat a wee bit, and incorporate a few additional reviews into this round-up, before I storm into March where five reviews await already, as there are some cracking releases coming up.

Happy reading!

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED:

Jonelle Patrick- Painted Doll   Claire Macleary- Cross Purpose  Andrew Taylor- The Ashes of London  Kate Rhodes- Crossbones Yard  J.P. Delaney- The Girl Before  Rory Clements- Corpus   Su Bristow- Sealskin  SJI Holliday- The Damselfly  Orlando Ortega-Medina- Jerusalem Ablaze

I was mightily impressed by Paradise City by Joe Thomas, which takes us deep into the throbbing heart of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the violent favela known as Paraisopolis. Low ranking detective Mario Leme drives through this favela everyday, as this is where his wife, Renata, a lawyer, was gunned down a year previously, the victim of a bala perdida– a stray bullet. One morning at the same spot, Leme witnesses a car careering out of control, but sees that the driver has several bullet wounds, although the incident is written off as a traffic accident. Leme finds himself embroiled in a tale of murder and corruption at the highest level, which puts him at odds with his superiors, and onto a dangerous path. What I liked most about this book was the colour and exuberance that Thomas injects into his vivid realisation of the pulsating favela, albeit suffused by violence. There is a wealth of local vernacular sprinkled throughout the book, and for those, like myself, who know little of Brazil, Thomas paints a broad and wide reaching picture of the social and financial chasm that exists between the different stratum of San Paulo society. Also, Leme, is an incredibly empathetic character, regularly overcome and clouded by grief by the loss of his wife, but also portrayed throughout as a decent man, a fair detective, and more importantly feeling his way back to normality, and the recovery of a life torn apart. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

Having made a new year’s resolution to myself that I would endeavour to read more historical crime fiction, I was made aware of E. S. Thomson and Beloved Poison by one of my bookselling colleagues, who couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Set in the crumbling St Saviour’s Infirmary in the 1850’s the story centres on Jem Flockhart, an apothecary’s daughter who disguises herself as a man to practice her medicinal craft. It is a world of stinking wards, visceral medical procedures, and professional rivalries. As the demolition of the hospital looms, six tiny coffins are discovered, which provide a strong link to Jem’s past, and as a series of murders ensue, she finds herself in terrible danger. I thought this was a terrifically bawdy romp, with a host of beautifully named characters that Dickens would be proud of. Thomson’s precise and graphic description of the disinterment of bodies from the graveyard attached to the hospital,  the medical practices of this time, and the detail of the more natural cures available to apothecaries of the era, were rich and lively in a darkly delicious way, bringing a colour and vivacity to the whole affair. This worked perfectly in tandem with a well plotted and sporadically shocking plot, as Thomson so adroitly immerses us in a tale of murder, sex and jealousy peopled by blundering doctors, whores, sharp tongued servants, and the wonderfully empathetic Jem herself, disguised as a man with the necessary toughness of demeanour, but at the mercy of her finer feelings as a woman. I fair scuttled through this one, with its colourful characters, menacing atmosphere and brilliant period detail. Sordid, rumbustious and totally enjoyable. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of Beloved Poison)

I cannot resist the allure of a new title from Chris Carter (One By One,   An Evil Mind ) and his dynamite pairing of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD. Once again in The Caller our intrepid duo are drawn into the nasty world of another completely loco serial killer, who operates via the world of social media, exacting some wonderfully visceral, and cruel and unusual punishments on his victims and those closest to them. Throw in a hitman looking for revenge on the killer too, whilst hoping to dodge the radar of Hunter and Garcia, and what Carter dishes up is a spine chilling, violent, read in one sitting (in subdued lighting if you dare) serial killer thriller with some very nasty surprises indeed. Typical Carter fare, but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Raven’s Book of the Month

Without a single moment of doubt, hesitation or procrastination, it can only be…

sealskin

Mesmeric and lyrical writing, weaving a folkloric tale

that will enchant you from beginning to end. 

 

 

 

T.F Muir- #BloodTorment Blog Tour- Exclusive Extract

9781472121165To mark the publication of T F Muir’s Blood Torment featuring DCI Andy Gilchrist and set in St Andrews, Scotland, here’s an exclusive extract of the book to tempt you further into this excellent series…

When a three-year old girl is reported missing, DCI Andy Gilchrist is assigned the case. But Gilchrist soon suspects that the child’s mother – Andrea Davis – may be responsible for her daughter’s disappearance, or worse, her murder. The case becomes politically sensitive when Gilchrist learns that Andrea is the daughter of Dougal Davis, a former MSP who was forced to resign from Scottish Parliament after being accused of physically abusing his third wife.

Now a powerful businessman, Davis demands Gilchrist’s removal from the case when his investigation seems to be stalling. But then the case turns on its head when Gilchrist learns that a paedophile, recently released from prison, now lives in the same area as the missing child. The paedophile is interrogated but hours later his body is found on the beach with evidence of blunt force trauma to the head, and Gilchrist launches a murder investigation.

As pressure relentlessly mounts on Gilchrist, he begins to unravel a dark family secret, a secret he believes will solve the fate of the missing child…

EXTRACT:

7.18 a.m., Monday, mid-April

Fisherman’s Cottage

Crail, Fife

DCI Andy Gilchrist had just taken his first mouthful of sliced mango when his mobile rang – ID Jessie. ‘Morning, Jessie. Hungover, are we?’

‘Is that the pot nipping the kettle?’

He was indeed feeling a tad tender. Impromptu celebrations and a one-for-the-road deoch an dorus – or was it three? – in The Central had that effect on him now, but he said, ‘Never felt better.’

‘Cross your heart and hope to die? And I don’t think. Listen,’ she said, ‘I’ve just caught a message being passed out on the radio from Control. We’ve got a Grade 1 priority. Missing child. Katie Davis. Two years old. Mother put her to bed last night, checked on her this morning, and she was gone. Mother’s never married. Lives by herself.’

‘Name?’

‘Andrea Davis.’

The name meant nothing to him. ‘Who’s the father? Do we know where he is?’

‘Don’t know to both questions. But I’ll get on to that. The Duty Inspector’s getting a dog handler over to the house as soon as. Grange Road. You know it?’

‘Branches off before the Kinkell Brae?’

‘That’s it.’

Gilchrist pushed his fruit to the side. ‘Address?’

‘Grange Mansion.’

‘Mansion?’

‘Yeah. She’s well to do, by the sounds of it. Which might be a motive for kidnap. But there’s no ransom note. Nothing.’

‘That could come later.’

‘I phoned the Duty Inspector,’ Jessie said, her voice rushing, ‘and asked her to check ViSOR for any RSOs in close proximity.’

The Violent and Sex Offender Register was a police system that kept tabs on RSOs – Registered Sex Offenders. From the rush in Jessie’s voice, Gilchrist suspected they had their fi rst solid lead.

‘Keep going,’ he said.

‘A nasty paedo by the name of Sammie Bell moved into the area about three weeks ago.’

‘Never heard of him.’

‘Doesn’t ring a bell, you mean?’

‘Very funny.’

‘He’s just moved back from London.’

‘Back?’ he said. ‘So he used to live here?’

‘Family home’s in Crail. Not too far from where you live. Parents dead. No siblings. Mother passed away last month, which might explain why he’s returned.’

‘To claim his inheritance?’

‘Got it in one.’

‘Address?’

Jessie gave it to him. Anstruther Road ran south from Westgate on the outskirts of Crail, and was bounded by some nice property. ‘Find out what you can on Bell, and get back to me.’

‘Want me to pick you up?’

‘I’ll meet you there.’

——————————————————————————————————-

Born in Glasgow, T. F. Muir was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells. By the time he graduated from University with a degree he hated, he’d already had more jobs than the River Clyde has bends. Short stints as a lumberjack in the Scottish Highlands and a moulder’s labourer in the local foundry convinced Muir that his degree was not such a bad idea after all. Twenty-five years of working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country. Now a dual US/UK citizen, Muir divides his time between Richmond, Virginia, and Glasgow, Scotland, carrying out research in the local pubs and restaurants. Frank is currently doing some serious book research in St Andrews’ local pubs, and working on his next novel, another crime story suffused with dark alleyways and cobbled streets and some things gruesome. Visit the author’s website here Follow on Twitter @FrankMuirAuthor

A Quick Round-Up- Caroline Mitchell- Don’t Turn Around/ Denzil Meyrick- Whisky From Small Glasses/ Barbra Leslie- Cracked

Let’s get the feeble excuse over with first! Currently battling with a very nasty viral illness, which seems to be reluctant to just bugger off. Although amazingly ahead of my reading, am woefully behind on reviews so here’s a quick round-up of books that have emerged from the teetering to-read pile…

9781909490970As D.C. Jennifer Knight investigates a routine stabbing in the quiet town of Haven, she is shocked at what seems like a personal message from beyond the grave.  When more bodies are found, Jennifer is convinced the killings are somehow linked. What she discovers is more chilling than she could possibly imagine. The murders mirror those of the notorious Grim Reaper – from over twenty years ago. A killer her mother helped convict.  Jennifer can no longer ignore the personal connection. Is there a copycat killer at work? Was the wrong man convicted? Or is there something more sinister at play? With her mother’s terrifying legacy spiralling out of control, Jennifer must look into her own dark past in a fight not only to stop a killer – but to save herself and those she loves…

There seems to be a small tide of paranormal tinged crime thrillers appearing at the moment, and having recently read James Nally- Alone With The Dead, I decided to dip my toe into this spooky sub-genre again with Mitchell’s debut thriller, Don’t Turn Around. Drawing on her experiences with the police, and her own encounters with more unexplainable phenomena, Mitchell has produced a perfectly creditable police procedural, underscored by some very dark goings-on indeed. Like Nally’s debut, I was extremely impressed with the book in terms of its characterisation, and DC Jennifer Knight in particular. Not only did she come across as an authentic police officer, but I loved the way that as the timeline gravitated back and forth, we began to see more the her determination to walk in her late mother’s footsteps, and how it influenced her own growth as an accomplished police officer. I enjoyed her interactions with her less dynamic colleague, Will, who lightened the feel of the book overall, and felt their partnership worked well. Unlike many books with the past/present structure, both timelines held my interest equally, and Mitchell carefully dealt with the ramifications of past crimes impacting on the present, and Jennifer’s task of catching a particularly heinous killer. Perhaps due to my natural scepticism of ‘otherworldy’ phenomena I was less enamoured with the supernatural thrust of the story, but to be honest, this didn’t prove a major stumbling block in my enjoyment of the book, as the police investigation was well realised, and overall I felt the book provided a very strong foundation for a potential series.

(I bought this copy of Don’t Turn Around)

51Xpc8S2wRL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_When the body of a young woman is washed up on an idyllic beach on the west coast of Scotland, D.C.I. Jim Daley is despatched from Glasgow to lead the investigation. Far from home, and his troubled marriage, it seems that Daley’s biggest obstacle will be managing the difficult local police chief, but when the prime suspect is gruesomely murdered, the investigation begins to stall. As the body count rises, Daley uncovers a network of secrets and corruption in the close-knit community of Kinloch, thrusting him and his loved ones into the centre of a case more deadly than he could ever have imagined…

The first of Denzil Meyrick’s series featuring DCI Jim Daley, a Glasgow cop despatched to a small community of the west coast of Scotland to take on a particularly testing murder case in a miasma of secrets and lies. This proved a frustrating read for me, as for at least two thirds of the book I was absolutely hooked. So we’ll start with the good. The characterisation of Daley was brilliant, a bear of a man with a determined and professional stance in relation to the investigation he undertakes, and how he treats his friends and colleagues, but whose weak spot was his feckless and really quite dislikeable wife, Liz who manipulates him at every turn. I particularly loved his right hand man DS Brian Scott, whose gruff Glaswegian persona, worked beautifully in tandem with his boss Daley throughout, and played off (and wound up)  the ‘small town’ cops and residents to great effect. The evocation of location in the fictional community of Kinloch, was equally assured, and there was a vividness and sense of realism throughout in Meyrick’s descriptions of this small coastal community, and the beauty of its surroundings. However, despite the meticulous and engaging plotting of the book up to the last few chapters, I was suddenly struck by those black thoughts of ‘oh no, he’s not going to do that with the plot is he;  that would be really obvious. And annoying’. He did. So I’m afraid that the ending of what had been a really rather impressive tale of murder, drugs, and skulduggery fell a bit flat at the end, and all felt a bit too ITV crime drama for my particular taste. (Which is fine if you want your book to be filmed as an ITV crime drama- ha!)  But nil desperandum and all that, because the combined force of Daley and Scott and their natural bonhomie would definitely entice me to read another in the series. I raise a small glass to this duo…

(I bought this copy of Whisky From Small Glasses)

Cracked_cvrAfter her stormy marriage ends, Danny Cleary jumps down the rabbit hole into a world of crack cocaine delivered to her door by a polite but slightly deranged dealer. But when Danny’s twin sister Ginger is murdered, Danny and her rock musician brother fly to California to find their nephews and the people who killed their sister. Fighting her addiction, nosy cops and crazy drug dealers, she kicks ass and takes names, embracing her inner vigilante in a quest to avenge her sister and save her family…

Right, let’s finish with a bang, and let me introduce you to one of the most mental, high-octane, and fast-paced thrillers I have read for some time. With its mash up of Janet Evanovich and Breaking Bad, Leslie brings us an absolutely brilliant protagonist in the shape of crack addict, Danny Cleary, who doesn’t seek to find trouble, it just naturally gravitates towards her! I loved the emotional opposites that Leslie weaves into her character, with her ballsy, high energy, kick ass attitude so wonderfully melded with a real emotional vulnerability, that she constantly seeks to overcome to avenge her sister’s death. She takes no prisoners, and basically you mess with her at your peril. I fair raced through this book with its punchy, pithy dialogue, and fast moving plot that sees Danny uprooted from the relative safety of Toronto to California, where events escalate at an alarming and dangerous pace. There’s drugs, violence, sadness, more violence, and for much of the book you are blindsided by who’s bad, who’s good with some great reveals at key moments of people’s evil motivations and depravity. I though this was an absolutely cracking read, which left me emotionally spent, but ultimately very fulfilled. A sassy, dark, thoroughly entertaining thriller and highly recommended.

(With thanks to Titan Books for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Doug Johnstone- The Jump

 

Welcome to the next stop on the Doug Johnstone blog tour, coinciding with the release of his latest book The Jump. Raven is quite the fan of Mr J.  and have previously had the pleasure of reviewing both Gone Again and The Dead Beat , so what did The Jump hold in store…

The Jump, immediately draws us into the world of Ellie, a middle-aged woman struggling to come to terms with the seemingly inexplicable suicide of her teenage son, Logan, and the fractured relationship this has caused within her marriage to Ben. Living in the shadow of the Forth Bridge, where Logan ended his life, and succeeding in talking down another suicidal teenager, Sam, Ellie finds herself with a second chance in helping Sam, and gaining some kind of redemption from the sadness that defines her life. However, in becoming so closely involved with him, and his younger sister, Libby, Ellie becomes enmeshed in a family that is filled with secrets, far darker and more dangerous than she can possibly imagine…

When people decry genre fiction as somehow not being as worthy or the compare of ‘literary fiction’,  I have no hesitation in drawing their attention to books such as this. The Jump possesses an emotional intensity and sensitivity that is rarely encountered in any genre, harnessing emotional, and by their very nature, contentious issues that many writers in the ‘literary’ field would struggle to address in such an affecting way as Johnstone achieves. Obviously, the book is very much centred on the theme of suicide, both the causes of, and the aftermath for,  those left behind by this devastating act, and in the character of Ellie, Johnstone personifies all the linked emotions, doubts and blame that those left behind have to process. I loved the marked difference that Ellie and her husband exhibit in their reactions to the loss of their son, and the way that they too are faced with a leap of faith to restore their relationship to what it once was. Also with the interaction between Ellie and troubled teenager Sam, Johnstone blurs the lines between Ellie’s response to him as a mother, and a strange sense of sensuality, not sexuality, that seems to permeate their relationship. As we discover more about Sam, and his family (no spoilers from me), Ellie seems to undergo a marked change, and discovers a real inner core of strength that has been suppressed by her grief, and her journey back to her former resilience is moving throughout. With so much of the weight of the plot and the emotional issues therein on her shoulders, there was always a chance that Johnstone may have strayed down the route of mawkish sentimentality. He doesn’t, and must be applauded for his very sensitive, and most importantly, utterly real characterisation that Ellie embodies. As the plot unfolds into a very dark tale indeed, this sense of brutal reality persists, and is both shocking and redemptive in equal measure.

Another facet of the book that I enjoyed greatly was the absolute attention to sense of place, that Johnstone consistently shows in the book. With the incredibly visual depiction of this small riverside community, dwarfed by the architectural scale of the bridge itself, and the threatening power of this mass of water, Johnstone also draws a contrast of the smallness of our lives in the face of nature. His description of the life of the river and its environs, and man’s attempts to harness it, raises some interesting questions on our place within the natural world, but equally how the power of nature can provide succour in times of emotional uncertainty. I thought the description of Ellie’s wild swimming, where she sheds her land-bound skin, almost like a folkloric Selkie, to calm her restless spirit, was incredibly effective, and how this physical and, at times, perilous act brought her a closer connection with her son. It was beautifully done, and further ingrained in the reader’s sensibility the inescapable link that the water holds for Ellie in all spheres of her life.

You know how you sometimes encounter a book that just swirls around your consciousness in the wake of its reading, and pops back into your head at odd moments- well, this is most definitely one of those. The Jump is one of the most emotive and intense books it’s been my pleasure to read, and despite the weighty issues it explores, and the inherent sadness within its pages, ultimately one of the most satisfying. A brave, yet sometimes difficult, subject wonderfully handled. Prepare to be moved.