Here are nine books by eight authors which we discussed at our recent Zoom meeting. There are two cracking 5-Star reads and all but one of the rest score well as 4 or 4+ Stars.
During May we’ve read a mixture of e-books and books and there were two which earned an outright 5-Stars – both by the Icelandic author, Ragnar Jónasson. Our summaries below are listed by rating (high to low) and alphabetically by author.
Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson
This is Jónasson’s debut novel and the first of his Dark Iceland series. What a start! Ari Thor, a young rookie detective, has been posted to the small town of Siglufjörour, which is near the Arctic Circle and only accessible by sea, or through a tunnel bored through a mountain. Thor is a loner who finds it hard to build any meaningful relationships with colleagues although he’s intelligent and has a keen sense of justice, which makes him very effective at his job.
Siglufjörour is a place where everyone knows everyone and no-one locks their doors. But shortly after Thor’s arrival a young woman is stabbed and left for dead in the snow, and then an elderly writer falls over and dies. When snowstorms close the mountain tunnel Thor finds himself in the middle of a complicated investigation, unable to trust anyone in a community that has lots of secrets. Jónasson really captures the reality of a tight knit community, the harsh weather and seemingly endless nights in what is a really classic whodunnit with lots of great plot twists. I can’t wait to read more of this series.
5-Stars from Feebs
The Mist by Ragnar Jónasson
One of a trilogy, although each can be read as a standalone story. Set in Iceland, Detective Huldar Hermanssdottir is recovering from a domestic tragedy and is just back at work (too early, according to her boss). Her first case is the search for a young woman who had gone backpacking for a year around Iceland, intending to work for her upkeep at whatever came along. Her parents had contacted the police after many days with no contact from her, and after the last call from a remote village on the East coast which had suffered a major power cut all over the Christmas period.
Two bodies are discovered in a farmhouse but there’s no sign of the missing woman. This is a real spine chiller: heavy snow covering all tracks and vehicles, a forlorn, lightly decorated Christmas tree; a couple of unopened Christmas gifts and uneaten food as if all had been mysteriously interrupted. I was gripped by this story from beginning to end and the final unravelling of what had happened is completely unexpected. I can’t wait to read the two other books of the trilogy and more from this author.
5-Stars from Oxo
The Life we Bury by Allen Eskens
This is a good book – set in Minnesota, in and around Minneapolis. The story is about a young college student, Joe, who for a school assignment goes to interview a man dying from cancer in a nursing home, to describe a defining moment in this man’s life. The man is a convicted paedophile, rapist and murderer, out on parole. He’s also a Vietnam War hero. Joe and his sceptical neighbour (and eventual girlfriend) at first are convinced that the man is guilty on all counts, but they can’t quite reconcile this with his war record. They start to investigate and soon find discrepancies, which the defence team 30 years earlier did not discover.
With the help of Joe’s autistic brother, they manage to crack a code in the murder victim’s diary, which suddenly casts an entirely different light on the events. In doing so they begin to realise that the convicted man is actually innocent. They take the case back to the police asking them to look again and absolve the man before he dies. In doing so they put themselves in danger, because of course the real killer gets to hear about it and needs to shut them up and destroy their evidence before it goes any further. I listened to this as an e-audiobook and found it very compelling. It’s well written and exciting.
4-Stars from Freyja
The Inspector De Silva series by Harriet Steele
To date there are eight books in this series, which launched in 2016 and is set in colonial Ceylon in the late 1930s. It was such a different world, not always a nice one but with these books you can escape into a completely different time and place. They are mystery stories which are well written with some interesting characters. A relaxing read!
4.5 Stars from Eve
The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves
Not a new book but worth reading. It’s a Vera Stanhope story in which she and her team are investigate the deaths of two unlikely friends. One a well-spoken, privately educated younger man who was house-sitting in a large manor house and whose body lies dead in a ditch just outside the grounds; and the other, his friend, a middle-aged, cheaply dressed man who was found dead in the flat which had been used by the house-sitter inside the manor house.
The only neighbours nearby are four couples who live along a lane leading to the estate. All are early retired and pretending to enjoy their rather aimless country lifestyle. Vera and her team find it was the collecting and studying of moths that linked the two dead men together. But why should this lead to their deaths? This is another very enjoyable whodunnit from Ann Cleeves.
4-Stars from Oxo
Guilty not Guilty by Felix Francis
This is an unpredictable book, with twists and turns. It’s the story of a man being framed for his wife’s murder. There’s not much horse racing involved, which might be a good thing because I don’t think Felix Francis writes as well about it as his father did. I felt great sympathy with Bill Russell, the protagonist in this who is working hard to clear his name. You get very involved with the case and there’s a big plot twist at the end!
4-Stars from Norfolk Gal
The Cabin by Jørn Lier Horst
Set in Norway, but not Scandi-Noir. A retired politician and ex-minister dies suddenly of natural causes. He has no close family and the Party Secretary goes to his summer cabin to make sure no sensitive party documents are there. Instead he finds a locked room containing a load of sealed cardboard boxes containing foreign currency worth millions of kroner. The government asks William Wisting to investigate – off the books. He sets up a small team comprising himself, a crime scene technician, his daughter (who used to be an investigative reporter) and, later, another detective. Rather than plot twists this story makes several sharp turns. It’s old-fashioned detective work with technology (an ever-present iPad, mobile phones, Googlemaps etc.). The characters are well written and even though it’s not a rollercoaster adventure you get caught up in the story and I found it hard to put the book down. The Sunday Times used the description “brilliantly understated” which sums this up to a tee.
4-Stars from Cornish Eskimo
The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
This isn’t fiction. It’s a study into the lives of the five women who were murdered (supposedly) by Jack the Ripper. It’s well-researched and the details the author has discovered makes the book very interesting from a social history viewpoint. And that’s aside from them being murdered by Jack the Ripper, although there was no proven connection with him. Did Jack the Ripper really exist? This book has attracted good reviews and been shortlisted for the Wolfson History prize. Having said this I found it a bit of a ‘plod’ although it does give a different slant to this subject.
4-Stars from Eve
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
The story revolves around a house, Birchwood Manor, on the upper reaches of the Thames and switches between Victorian times and the present day, as well as times-in-between (which can be rather confusing). In 2017 Elodie, an archivist, finds an old satchel at work and is intrigued by some sketches in it of a beautiful young woman – the Clockmake’rs Daughter. She discovers the artist had purchased Birchwood Manor in the 1860’s and that he and his artist friends spent an idyllic summer there, until disaster struck. Elodie manages to find the manor and realises it is the same house that her mother told her stories about when she was young. Her mother died when she was small but finally Elodie finds the answer to what happened in 1862 and also discovers the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death. It’s quite a complicated story, made even more complicated because it’s told in part by the ghost of the Clockmakers Daughter. There are lots of coincidences and it’s an interesting portrait of Victorian London but I have to say I didn’t enjoy this as much as some of Kate Morton’s other books.
3.5 Stars from MM