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Out of Thin Air - Anthony Adeane

One cold January night in 1974 a young man leaves a nightclub and is never seen again. Months later another man receives a telephone call late at night and leaves his home. He too never returns. One murder in Iceland is unexpected, two in short succession almost unheard of. Police are quick to arrest suspects. Confessions are obtained and convictions followed. But those confessions may not have been as they seem.

 

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Iceland. It is a wonderful country, with a close-knit feel. There is beauty in its stark landscape and a wonderful sense of history permeates it. This essence of Iceland leaps from the pages of Out of Thin Air. There is something mysterious and slightly magical about the country and the book echoes that. (It was also great to read a book where I recognise the places and have actually been to them).

 

As well as being a fascinating look into Icelandic life, Out of Thin Air is a study in how criminal investigations shouldn’t take place. Forty something years ago investigative methods were different to today’s policing. Unfortunately violence was rife, as was the use of more persuasive tactics to elicit confessions. Add into the mix a police force unused to dealing with major investigations such as murder and it was a recipe for disaster.

 

Many of those who were involved in the case, including those convicted, remain in Iceland. They have had to live under the shadows of events from over forty years ago, each one dealing with it in their own way. I found myself searching the internet for more information on the six suspects. It was truly fascinating to read about what they went through, and how they dealt with the fallout of the case. The book looks into investigative methods, of both the Icelandic police and the German investigator sent to assist. It is a study in detection at the time, and the limits placed by lack of experience. It is also a study in the phenomenon of false confessions, of suggested memory and the effect that solitary confinement can have on the human mind.

 

The book reads very much like a documentary, which is apt given the author, Anthony Adeane was researching the case for a documentary. Interviews with those involved form the bedrock of the book, bringing the cases even more to life. As with most non-fiction crime books there is a sense of unease in that the complete truth will never be fully known. But such is life.

 

It’s hard to not go into too much detail without giving anything away, so I will leave it there.

 

The cases of Guðmundur and Geirfinnur still causes much discussion in Iceland today. And it’s easy to see why. A fascinating look into a dark part of the country where the Northern Lights shine.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse

Bertie Wooster is visited at his club by his old friend Stinker Pinker. Stinker it would seem, is worried that his amour, Stiffy is going off him, so asks Bertie, who wouldn’t seem like anyone’s first choice to dabble in relationship counselling, to help. At first he refuses, given Stiffy is staying at her uncle’s house at Totleigh Towers, where Bertie is persona non grata following a misunderstanding with a stolen object d’art. However, circumstances conspire to find Bertie at the Towers. And soon things start to go in such a direction that only Jeeves can fix.

 

This is the first P.G. Wodehouse I have read. I picked it up with the intention of just reading a few pages to get a feel for the novel. I soon found myself chuckling away to Bertie’s narrative, the idiosyncracies of his relationship with Jeeves a joy to read.

Behind the steely, subdued exterior of Jeeves there lurks a sharp brain and an even sharper tongue. His job is less man-servant, more babysitter in some respects. He is there to ensure Bertie doesn’t dig himself into too deep a hole, and does an admirable job of hiding his master’s ineptness from the man himself.

 

This time Bertie is endeavouring to help an old friend save his engagement. What Bertie doesn’t foresee is that he will be accused of being a thief, again, and have to dodge a betrothal of his own, not to mention a dog who attacks first and asks questions later.

 

There are a rag-tag assortment of characters, all wonderfully villanous, inept, conniving and madcap in turn. There are also some wonderful turns of phrase and word play that make the reader laugh out loud. It’s apparent that Wodehouse had fun when he wrote these novels.

 

It’s farcical, frenetic at some point and highly entertaining, I’ll be turning to Jeeves and Wooster again when I need to escape the real world for a while.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide - Anthony Quinn

1918. Britain and her allies are still fighting in the final stages of World War One. William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s renowned poet, resides in London. There he spends his days immersed in the other world ghosts and the occult. Convinced he is haunted by the ghost of a young murdered Irish girl he sends his friend Charles Adams to investigate, though Yeats is more interested in catching a ghost than a murderer. As Adams investigates he becomes embroiled in Irish politics and finds his own life in danger.

 

I always find fictional books that contain real characters fascinating. Artistic licence based on fact produces a surreal but compelling text and as I often do when reading such work, I found myself reading a little more about Yeats and the facts that the fiction was based upon, as soon as I had finished the book.

 

This was an atmospheric read. The foggy, wind-swept stormy lands described set the tone for the novel. It felt like there was a perpetual night time, which added to the haunted quality of the narration. Adams is an adept narrator and it is interesting to see his views on ghosts, the after-life, politics and Yeats alter as his investigation progresses.

 

At first it is difficult to see if this is a ghost story or a murder mystery, or piece on political history but really it is all of these. It was an engaging, enjoyable read. There are a host of interesting characters, from Yeats himself to Georgie, his wife, and Maud, his muse and the woman who rejected Yeats. It also provided me with an brief but interesting insight into Yeats and the Irish Separatist movement. I’ll be interested to read more by Anthony Quinn in the future.

Cursed (Henning Juul) - Thomas Enger, Kari Dickson

Cursed opens with a bang when Daniel Schyman is shot dead in his own forest in Sweden. In Norway Hedda Hellberg has failed to return from a retreat and her husband enlists her old friend Nora, a journalist, to help track her down. Nora’s husband Henning Juul is soon embroiled in the search. As the pair investigate, they discover a murky past to the Hellberg family and Juul finds clues as to the instigator of the fire that killed his son two years earlier.

 

Whist this is the fourth book in the series it is the first to be published by Orenda and can certainly be read out of sequence as all the novels can be read as standalone books.

 

I loved the setting of the novel. It gave a glimpse into life in Norway, a fascinating country that made me want to read more. The location itself is a character in the story. I felt it gave the book a darker edge, as if the narration was preparing for a lengthy Norwegian winter.

 

There is an edge, an undercurrent of darkness and tragedy to the novel, lent by the storyline following the murder of Juul’s young son. Juul was the intended target and this alone torment him. As he digs deeper into the circumstances he becomes more involved with the criminal underbelly of Oslo. This storyline is central to the novel and will follow through into the next in the series.

 

Juul and Nora are complex characters. The reader gets the impression that the Nora and Henning we see are just shadows of their real selves. Irrevocably changed by the death of their child, the trauma of such a loss has impacted them as people. There is a sadness that pervades them, yet it also allows Juul’s steely determination to spur him on to discover the truth, with a lack of self preservation at the heart of it.

The mystery surrounding the Hellbergs is compelling, and flows well with the other storyline. By having the story focus around one family and a handful of people the story gains an almost closed room feel to it. I also liked the fact that both protagonists were not law enforcement, allowing them to work outside the usual legal confines to delve deeper into the truth.

 

Short chapters lend itself to the ‘just one more chapter’ mentality and this meant I flew through the novel. It wasn’t until half way through that I thought to myself that I was really enjoying it. That’s not to say the first half isn’t good, far from it. It was just that this realisation that I was wrapped up in the story, so much so that I couldn’t wait to find out what had happened, snuck up on me as the story weaved itself into my subconscious. Put simply, the more I read, the more I wanted to read.

 

A note on the translation. Without obviously reading the original Norwegian I did feel that the story I read was close to that originally written and that Kari Dickson had retained the voice of Thomas Enger. If you forget that you are reading translated fiction then the translator has done their job well and that’s the case with this book.

 

This is the first book by Thomas Enger I have read but it certainly won’t be my last.  I look forward to catching up with Henning Juul soon.

City of Masks - S. D. Sykes

Oswald de Lacy and his mother are in Venice, waiting for a ship to take them to the Holy Land. However the Venetians and Hungarians are at a standoff so Oswald finds himself trapped for a while in the floating city. The black cloak of depression he had hoped to leave behind has followed him from England. The gambling he had hoped would stave off dark moods has become an addiction that could cost him everything. Then he finds a body, and he is drawn into the dark calles of Venice in the hopes of finding a killer, and saving himself in the process.

 

I’ll admit I didn’t like Oswald as much in this novel. He seemed more mean-spirited than normal. His mother was more sensitive, or at least as sensitive as she could be, and needed Oswald more. I found myself liking her more, even her cantankerous side grew on me.  His reaction to situations was one that seemed out of character. There were reasons for his actions, for his depression and whilst I knew that those would be revealed I did find myself lacking in sympathy for him. Instead of appearing older, as this story was set a few years after the last, he came across as younger. This sometimes manifested as him needing guidance that was sadly lacking or that was ignored when received. His stubbornness appeared more in this novel, traits he unknowingly would have obtained from his mother and sister.

 

The mystery itself was engaging and I loved the setting of Venice. The city and its own laws and rules, the fearsome Signori di Notte and the horror of the leper colony, together with the vivid descriptions of the cacophony of life on the calles and canals conjured up a full picture of medieval Venice. A lot of research would have gone into this novel and it shows. The atmosphere, the sights, sounds and fear of those in charge rise up from the pages. It was interesting to compare this with the setting of the other novels. There is a darkness, or perhaps a grimy film, that covers the stories set in England, one which enforces the bleakness of the landscape and the lives of those who work the land. In City of Masks that darkness is shown in a different light. There is the impression of colour, of festival and merriment but that too has an undercurrent of something deeper, when the hidden poverty of the city is shown.

 

The investigation brought a return of the old Oswald. It was also good to see Oswald’s mother more involved in this investigation. It is always interesting to read a novel where the crime can’t be deduced from DNA or fingerprint evidence, it’s one of the reasons I enjoy good historical crime fiction. City of Masks is an example of good historical crime fiction.

 

I’ll be interested to see what adventures Oswald gets up to next, particularly after the ending in this one.

Excellent Intentions - Richard   Hull

Launcelot Henry Cuthbert Cargate, or Henry Cargate to his enemies, is found dead on the train to London. His death was not mourned by anyone, given he was the least popular man in the village of Larkingfield. Someone has been arrested and is being tried for his murder but the identity of the accused is not revealed. Who did Inspector Fenby arrest, and will prosecution counsel Anstruther Blayton argue his case well enough for a conviction?

 

There’s been a murder. And the accused is on trial. All well and good but the reader doesn’t know which of four suspects is on trial. Now with a premise like that this book almost begs to be read.

 

This was a fun, unusual take on a crime novel, and I can see how innovative it was for its time. I had a great time reading the progression of the case, meandering backwards and forwards through time whilst information and clues were drip fed. I could easily see this being adapted for television. I get the impression that Richard Hull had great fun writing it and how it would have been a challenge to the genre norms at the time (as it still is, to an extent, today).

 

There are quite a few characters introduced at once and it takes a little time to sort them out. That done the story progresses well, with scenes from court interspersed with Inspector Fenby’s investigations, the judge’s summing up and the jury deliberations. There is a closed room feel to the novel, given the limited number of suspects.

 

I had guessed who was in the dock before it was revealed. However there are no real red herrings or false turns, no big twists you won’t see coming. The clues are laid out for the reader to find, just as they are there for Inspector Fenby to detect.

 

What I love about these British Library Crime Classics is that they all take you back in time. I could imagine the country house and village scenes. I could also imagine the hubbub this book could have caused when it was first published in 1938. The more I read of these books the more I see how crime writers from the first half of the last century played with the genre rules, stretching them and breaking them (Agatha Christie is perhaps the most famous example of a literary rule breaker) and paving the way for the modern writers to do the same.

 

The ending was particularly good and I turned the last page with a wry smile on my face.

 

A throughly enjoyable way to spend a few hours. The verdict is in – recommended.

The Reckoning - Rennie Airth

1947. Britain is recovering slowly from the war. John Madden is happily retired from the police force and tending his farm. He soon finds himself drawn into a murder investigation when a victim of a bizarre shooting appeared to be trying to track him down. As Madden and his friend Billy Styles investigate further, they find that the echos of the First World War still reverberate.

 

You know that you’ve found a good book when you can’t wait to get back to reading it. That’s what happened whist I was reading The Reckoning. This is engaging from the beginning, opening with the murder of a mild mannered retired bank manager. I was soon drawn into the story, each character was well drawn, holding their own place and having their own importance in the story. I could easily imagine the foggy streets of post war London and the murders in particular were quite moving and sad in their descriptions, as they were told from the point of view of the victim.

 

I had guessed the murderer before the dénouement but this did not spoil my enjoyment. This was a gentle paced novel, despite dealing with the devastating impact of war. The topic of the events in the First World War were fascinating and made the story all themore interesting and moving for me.

 

The era/style was reminiscent of Miss Marple and that ilk, harking back to a bygone age with old fashioned crimes and values for want of a better phrase. This is the fourth book in the Madden series but the first Rennie Airth book I have read. I will certainly go back and read the others in the series.

The Dog Who Dared to Dream - Sun-mi Hwang

The Dog Who Dared to Dream tells the story of Scraggy, the odd one out of the litter of pups born to a mother who’s life has been series of pregnancies. Scraggly slowly sees her family disappear for various reasons until one day there is just her left. Alone she sets off to see the world outside the gates of her home. We follow her as she encounters other animals and humans, and grows up with her owner Grandpa Screecher.

 

The novel shows the trials of life through the eyes of Scraggly, grief at losing loved ones, the importance of friendship and the cruelties that can lay at the hands we trust the most.

 

This is a charming and moving tale about the relationship between man and dog. The symbiotic relationship and the often times cruel one that can exist. It is also a sad tale, one of the loneliness Scraggly faces as her family leave her.

 

It is a parable about the vagaries of life, of hardship, sacrifice and love. Scraggly’s children leave, some dying, others sold, never to return and she pines their loss equally. I was soon caught up with Scraggly’s tale, pulled along by the narrative, and oddly moved by it.

 

This is a short novel, only 160 pages in length but it packs a lot of story into those few pages. There is a fairytale like sense to the book, helped not only by the canine lead character but by the translation, which I always find tends to lend an aura of magic to a story. It opens on the door a little on a different culture, one perhaps unknown and therefore a little mysterious. Because it is such a short novel it is hard to discuss the book without giving too much of the storyline away and so my review will be one of brevity.

 

A lovely, perfectly paced story that will make you ponder.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper - Phaedra Patrick

Arthur Pepper is still mourning the loss of his beloved wife Miriam. On the anniversary of her death he decides it’s time to take her clothes down from the wardrobe and give them to charity. As he is sorting through Miriam’s items he comes across a charm bracelet, one he does not recall Miriam every wearing. Spotting a clue on one of the charms Arthur is soon the trail of the history of the charms. The more he finds out about the bracelet, the more he learns about a Miriam he never knew, and learns more about himself in the process.

 

I found myself charmed by Arthur and his tale of discovery. I was soon wrapped up in his story, wondering where the next charm would take him and what adventure, or misadventure he would find himself in.

 

There were some wonderful characters in this book all perfectly drawn. Arthur’s description of grief at the loss of Miriam seemed all too real and his tendency to revert to introspection and loneliness felt true to live. Bernadette is a larger than life character who appears initially to be a busy body but who’s exterior hides a kind, lonely woman who has only good intentions for those she cares about. As Arthur bumbles along on his adventure he meets some wildly different but all wonderful characters, including Lord Graystock, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a real life eccentric member of the aristocracy with a penchant for wild animals, and Mike the former drug addict who helps Arthur when he gets into a spot of bother in London. As Arthur finds out about each charm on the bracelet he finds out more about Miriam. Her personality is rounded out. She is very easily imagined and is as much of a main character in the novel as the others are, even though she is gone before the book starts.

 

This book is as much about Arthur’s transformation as it is about Miriam’s hidden past. We see Arthur go from merely existing to living again. He rediscovers his zest for life and does things that he never imagined he would. This story shows that when life unexpectedly goes off course, the new paths open to explore are often exciting ones. It is never too late to try new things and to learn to love any new lives we may face.

 

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is the debut novel from Phaedra Patrick. It is an assured, lovely tale of enduring love, grief and finding a new way to live after the loss of a loved one. I look forward to reading more from Phaedra Patrick in the future.

The Year of Taking Chances - Lucy Diamond

Gemma Bailey loves her life. She is still madly in love with her husband Spencer and has a beautiful house to raise her two children in. Caitlin has returned to her childhood home to sort through the belongings of her mum, who has recently died. Saffron is growing tired of life in London and has lots of thinking to do. All come together by accident at Gemma’s New Years Eve party. Life begins to throw obstacles at the three women and as they tackle these problems their friendship grows.

 

This is the first Lucy Diamond book I have read but it won’t be the last. This was a fun, comforting read, perfect to curl up with and get lost in. I liked all of the characters, though if I’m honest Spencer did grate on my nerves on occasion. All three main leads were likeable and individual. I enjoyed following all of the separate stories and seeing how their lives interacted. My favourite character by far though was Bunty, Saffron’s initially annoying client. I can see a spin off story with her as the lead and Gemma, Caitlin and Saffron as supporting cast.

 

Each chapter focusses on one of the characters and I found this to be a great technique as it allowed the reader to see how the story of each woman impacted themselves and the others and made the story rounder.

 

Yes I guessed every part of the storyline before it appeared on the page. Sometimes that’s something that can spoil a story but I didn’t care. It was an enjoyable journey watching the story get there. One I hope to take again with Lucy’s other novels.

Tastes Like Fear: DI Marnie Rome 3 - Headline Digital, Sarah Hilary, Imogen Church

A girl, seemingly distressed, runs in front of a car and causes a fatal accident. Marnie Rome and her team are on her trail but before she can be found another girl is found dead. Are the two girls linked? Where have they been staying? It is with Harm, a man who offers shelter to those who live on the streets. But is there more to Harm than meets the eye? Just how safe are the lost girls? After all, home is where Harm is….

There are some authors whose books find you in a quandary. You eagerly await the release of their latest novel but once it is in your hands you want to eek out reading it, delaying the gratification you know will follow, wanting to treasure each moment you have with the world they have created. Sarah Hilary’s books are such books as these. I eagerly await each new Marnie Rome novel, then put off reading it for as long as possible, knowing the wait for the next will be interminable. But then I got to the point I could wait no longer. But worth the wait it was.

It was a joy to return to Marnie’s often dark and twisted world, a world where she has to conquer devilish criminals and her own feelings for her foster brother Stephen Keene, the brother who murdered her parents. Stephen doesn’t feature as much in this story, but he is still there, lurking in the background, casting a sinister shadow over Marnie’s life. It was also great to see more of Noah Jake, and his personal life, insights into his relationship with Dan and background as to the troubled past of his brother Sol. As for the other characters they were all perfectly placed and imagined. They brought with them sadness, fear and pulled the story together perfectly. Particularly Harm, a terrifying yet abstract man, used to hiding his true self, which made the real him, when revealed, all the more terrible.

This case hits close to home for Marnie, involving runaway girls, girls she can see mirroring herself as a teenager. It is with sadness that she can now look back on her actions, and those of her parents, with an adult understanding, one she wishes she could share with the children involved.

A staple of Sarah Hilary’s novels is the choice of an abstract, little known or written about crime or condition as a driving force for the story. This is the case for Tastes Like Fear. Harm casts a strange spell over his victims, one which Marnie and Noah have not experienced before, but find chilling. The clues are carefully revealed, leaving a trail that allows the reader to work out parts of the story just before Marnie and Noah reach the same conclusion. It was as always a great source of reading fun, pitting my investigative wits against Harm, trying to figure out who it was or what had happened.

This is the third novel to feature Marnie Rome and whilst it can be read as a standalone I would urge you to read Someone Else’s Skin and No Other Darkness first, simply so you don’t miss out on such terrific novels.

As always, Sarah Hilary has written a taut, gripping and brilliantly stifling thriller, one which grabs you at the first page and makes you want to cling on until the very end.

In Someone Else’s Skin Sarah Hilary set herself out as one to watch. She is now an author that is firmly on the crime writing scene, and a standout author at that. It is often suggested that genre novels, in particular crime novels, aren’t as ‘worthy’ as literary fiction, not a notion I’d endorse. I’d suggest that whoever says this hasn’t read a novel such as one by Sarah Hilary. She is an author that can be relied upon to create compelling, moving crime thrillers, tackling little mentioned crimes, shied away from or unknown in the wider world but which lend themselves to moving, thought-provoking stories.

Sarah Hilary joins the short list of authors, including Jonathan Kellerman and Donna Leon that I eagerly anticipate. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Mothering Sunday: A Romance - Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday, 1924. Jane Fairchild, like all other household staff, has the day off but having no mother to visit, she has the day to herself. The eventful day will help shape her future in unforeseen ways.

Mothering Sunday is a short novel but is packed full of beautiful, evocative writing. It takes skill to round out a character in few words and Graham Swift has that skill. Jane Fairchild is a complex character, she is a glimpse into what it is like to be both seen and invisible. Graham Swift explores the class divide of the early 20th Century, when the shift was moving towards fewer household help, when women’s liberation was a fledgling idea. Jane Fairchild is a perfect metaphor for the undercurrent of the time. Outside meek and bidding, perfect in her role as housemaid, unaware of her secret, the way she has bridged the divide. She has ideas and desires ahead of her time, ambitions and aspirations of doing more with her life than being in service.

An event in the novel, on Mothering Sunday, precipitates her eventual change to famous author. The narrative weaves from Jane in her twenties to a ninety year old reflecting on her life and all the intervening years.

The book is a commentary on how minor incidents and major shifts can both impact on our lives. It is, on first appearance, a short novel about a young orphan girl and a reflection on a day in her life. In reality it is much more. It is a social commentary, a coming of age tale and a love story, of falling in love with others and with yourself, of accepting who you are and of challenging boundaries. In short, a beautiful, thought-provoking read.

The Lido - Libby Page

The lido is an oasis of calm in the whirlwind that is Brixton. It’s where children learn to swim, where people escape the day to day grind for a time, where memories are made and love is found. When the council threaten to close the Lido, Rosemary is determined to do something about it. Kate, a local reporter is sent to cover the story. Little does she realise that Rosemary, and the lido, will change her live in many ways.

 

Rosemary is a lovely character. The story of her and George is one that is just as central to the story as the lido itself. It is bittersweet to read about the great love of her life. It is the fact that the lido is the last link to her husband that drives Rosemary’s need to save it. The battle opens up the world to both her and Kate. Through the lido they both gain friends, experience new things and take leaps of faith. Kate is lonely. She shares a house with people she still doesn’t know. She cries herself to sleep most evenings and suffers from crippling anxiety. When she is given the story of the battle to save the lido she doesn’t foresee that the lido and it’s users will bring friends, confidence and drive into her life.

 

It was lovely to see the friendship between Rosemary and Kate develop. The two grow close, their ages irrelevant, and both are aware that their friendship is a legacy of the lido. Kate’s confidence grows as the story progresses, to such an extent that her actions surprise even herself.

 

This was a very easy to read novel. The short chapters allow the reader to glide through the story, justifying ‘just one more’ that soon turns into three or four. I found myself flying through the final third of the book. There’s a wonderful charm to the story, the way it’s told gives it shades of an almost fairy tale.

 

A warm, comforting, uplifting read. I look forward to reading more from Libby Page in the future.

In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward

This is an assured debut from Sarah Ward. This isn’t a book filled with core or bloody scenes. It is a gentle paced novel but don’t let that fool you. This is a story that creeps up on you and draws you in without really noticing. I soon got lost in the pages and looked forward to reading it when I was away from the book.

 

I liked the character of Sadler and would love to see him return in future books. He had a gentle way of dealing with people and situations, though was not without personal issues. It would have been nice to learn more about his back story and see more of his character develop, hence my hope for more from him. Of his colleagues Connie and Palmer I felt that Connie was the stronger of the two. Palmer almost faded into the background. I found myself a little distanced from him and unable to figure out the dynamic between him and Connie. As for Connie I would have liked to know more about her, as what was revealed helped shape her for the reader.

 

The real focus of the story is Rachel. We see how the kidnapping has effected her life, her distrust of women conflicting with the fact that her family tree focussed on the matriarchal line only, or perhaps because of it. The genealogy aspect was fascinating and very relevant to the story. It allowed Rachel to be her own form of detective, looking into things that she can control i.e. the past.

 

I had fun figuring out the twist in the tale and the outcome was one I can’t recall coming across in recent crime novels I’ve read.

 

A great read. I’m looking forward to more novels from Sarah Ward.

The Offering - Grace McCleen

Madeline is incarcerated in a mental asylum, having lived there for over 20 years, she has come to accept her life in an institution. One day a new doctor, Dr Lucas, decides to try to unlock memories of what happened on Madeline’s fourteenth birthday, and with it, gives hope to Madeline that she may one day be released. As the treatment progresses Madeline struggles with memories that re-emerge and wonders if the promise of release is worth the pain the memories trigger.

 

There is an air of melancholy and detachedness that runs through this novel. This reflects Madeline’s outlook on the world, she has detached herself from the outside world, so long ago now she cannot, or will not remember why.

 

Whilst religion runs through this book it less about every day beliefs and more about religious zealotry and dogma. It plays a major part in Madeline’s breakdown, though it is unclear whether it is because of her religious indoctrination that her breakdown plays out as it does, or despite it. As the story develops and the more we learn of her parents, it becomes clear that although her upbringing is unusual, and will have affected her mental state, Madeline’s condition may also have been hereditary. However, Madeline is an unreliable narrator and we can never be sure what is fact and what is fiction. This is not an easy read, and part of that has to be intentional and due to the fact that Madeline is such an unreliable narrator.

 

What I did find shocking was how those with a mental illness were treated in the institution. There was a distinct lack of rehabilitation apparent, it appeared more like the patients were inmates and spent most of the time drugged to keep them compliant. It was more reminiscent of how one would imagine such patients were treated in the past than in the 21st Century.

 

I struggled with the book at times. Not because of all the religious connotations, I let these wash over me, but more with the language fourteen year old Madeline uses in her diary entries. This was not the language I would assume, rightly or wrongly, would come easily and naturally to a teenager on the brink of puberty. I found myself more interested in the older Madeline, and how she was responding to treatment than to the younger Madeline and her journey to being institutionalised.

 

When it comes, the release Madeline gains, is perhaps not the one she thought she was seeking, but the one she needed nonetheless.

 

In summary a book I found equally interesting, frustrating, uncomfortable and thought-provoking.

Falling in Love: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery (Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries) - Donna Leon

Flavia Petrelli has returned to La Fenice, this time appearing as Tosca. Many years ago Brunetti met Flavia when a German conductor was murdered. Meeting Brunetti again after one of her performances she mentions to him that she has been receiving unwanted attention from an admirer. Yellow roses, and lots of them have been left for her in her private dressing room, and inside her locked apartment building. When another opera singer is attacked Brunetti realises he has to find the obsessive fan before Flavia is hurt.

 

Donna Leon’s novels are very much character driven. I’d recommend reading the series from the beginning for part of the joy of the books is watching the characters develop over the years. Each one is vital to the story, impinging on how Brunetti investigates, be it with the help of Vianello or Signorina Elettra’s insights or indeed working in an alternative way to either spite or circumvent Bruentti’s annoying and snobbish boss Patta.

 

Because the books are so heavily dependent on the characters I often find that the crime that drives the story takes something of a back seat. This could be said for this book. Brunetti rarely has to deal with gruesome crimes, though often they are sad and this sometimes makes them more effecting. In Falling in Love the crime is unusual in that this is a case of stalking, at once a rather personal crime but one that can be carried out by someone unknown to the victim as easily as by someone known. There are no clues dotted around to enable the reader to discover who the perpetrator is, we find out when Brunetti does. This is not to say that the story lacks something as a result. It does not. It was good to see how Brunetti identified who was stalking Flavia, helped as always by Vianello and the incomparable Signorina Elettra, who has connections that it is perhaps best that a police detective doesn’t enquire into.

Donna Leon’s skill lies in the vivid descriptions she provides for scenes and location. The family life of Brunetti and the location of Venice are beautifully portrayed. In such novels as Falling in Love this is important for it rounds out Brunetti’s character and makes him the detective he is.

 

As always, I looked forward to reading the latest Donna Leon and I was not disappointed with Falling in Love. Reading it was like returning to visit old friend and what an enjoyable return it was.