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The Lost Man - Jane Harper

There is something hauntingly claustrophobic about the outback, at least when Jane Harper portrays it.  The environment is as much of a character as the humans who inhabit it. Nothing for miles around but parched land and the odd cow. Here your nearest neighbour is 3 hours away. So there is something of a closed room mystery about The Lost Man, even though the death of Cameron Bright happens in the wide open air.


This is a slow-moving book, there are no big chases or overt threats, rather there is the threat of something under the surface as the reader is unsure who to trust or who has the most to hide.


There is, inevitably, something not quite right with the Bright family. The isolation has harboured secrets that have managed to remain buried, or at least unacknowledged, for years. It’s those secrets that threaten to come to the surface when Cameron’s body is found. The sense of unease continues throughout as more is revealed about the lead up to his death.


There are two back stories running throughout, one relating to the family as a whole and one which led to Nathan being ostracised from the community. I’ll admit I wasn’t that keen on the latter, it seemed a little forced, but it explained Nathan’s character as it was in the present day.


Despite his issues I liked Nathan, all of the good parts of him are mirrored in his son Xander. Bub, Nathan’s younger brother is under appreciated. At the farm there is Liz, the Bright brothers mother, Harry, the farm hand and two backbackers. There is also Cameron’s children and Ilse, his wife, who has her own history with Nathan that has affected him for many years. Whilst the story revolves around them, there is still the feeling that only parts of their characters are revealed.


Although there is a mystery to solve, this is at heart, more of a family drama, of the dynamics of growing up miles from the next house, of adapting to the harsh needs of the landscape and surviving.


An atmospheric, location driven read. I look forward to more from Jane Harper in the future.

When You Read This - Mary Adkins

Iris has died. Aged 33, she found she had lung cancer and was given only months to live. During her last few months she writes a blog about dying. Her final wishes are that her boss, PR executive Smith, publish the blog. First though Smith has to persuade Iris’ sister Jade.


I’ll admit at first I wasn’t sure what to make of the book. I found it strange and I wasn’t sure if I was actually enjoying it. It’s full of graphs and dots and Venn diagrams. The rest is written in the form of blog posts, emails, texts and letters to what appears to be a remote therapist. But it grew on me, and the form in which it was written made it easy to fly through the book.


There is a surreal quality to the book, lent in part by the modern-day epistolary nature. However, I think the writing style would still have given that surreal feeling if the book had been written in a more standard narrative style.


Iris almost blends into the background as the relationship between Jade and Smith develops. She is however, the star around which they orbit, drawn together by the loss of her. I enjoyed the latter half of the book more as we see the burgeoning relationship between Jade and Smith develop. There is also a lot of self-development as Jade and Smith look to themselves to see why their lives have turned out as they have.


There are some comedy moments. Carl for example, Smith’s intern, is probably one of the most egotistical and useless interns there has ever been. There are of course the inevitable sad moments, given this is a book revolving around grief and how it manifests. Iris’ blog posts are moving, the one that is the most effecting being the last blog post, right at the end of the book. There is also sadness from some of the comments to her blog posts, almost cruel in their nature, showing people still focussed on themselves when others are literally dying around them.


Whilst about grief in its many manifestations this is in essence a love story. It is about the love between siblings, of parental love in whatever form that takes, of romantic love and how some can only show love in toxic ways.

The Story Keeper - Anna Mazzola

Audrey Hart has left behind a troubling incident in London and travelled to the island of Skye. There she is to be employed by Miss Buchanan, charged with collecting the folk and fairy tales of the inhabitants of the island. She also hopes to find out more about the death of her mother, who had died years ago on Skye. But when Audrey discovers the body of a young girl and another disappears she wonders if there is some truth behind the fairy tales.


The setting of the novel is very atmospheric. I could imagine the solitude, the workers houses and the waves crashing on the shore. The impression given was one of darkness, or an island toiling under rain clouds, no doubt aided by mirrored weather in the real world.


Audrey is an interesting character. Tenacious, strong-willed and kind, she is rebelling against society in her own way. She finds strength she didn’t know she had without even realising it. Moving to Skye was a big thing for her, a step into the unknown. In a time when women were little more than property, Audrey is hardly aware that she is a trailblazer of sorts. Skye, despite the troubles it brings to her life, is also the key to her personal freedom. The other characters all have their secrets to reveal. Each one, from Audrey’s employer to children playing with a frog, add layers to the story, allowing a fully formed image of the island to emerge.


The fairy tales and folk tales aspect of the story were very interesting. They added layers to the story, giving it hints of the magical, the closing ranks of the locals and their belief in the mysterious making the story seem more claustrophobic and menacing. They also allowed those in power to reject complaints or crimes against the poor, disappearances put down to ignorance rather than real, concrete, human interference.

As with The Unseeing, The Story Keeper is as a much a social commentary as a mystery novel. The treatment of the lower classes and women frustrate and anger, much as they should. They show how far society has come but also how far is still to go.

I was soon drawn into the story of the missing girls and Audrey’s search for the truth.


An entertaining, atmospheric read, I look forward to reading more from Anna Mazzola in the future.

The Curious Heart Of Ailsa Rae - Stephanie Butland

Ailsa Rae has reached the age of 28 and never really lived. She was born with a cogenital heart defect, not expected to reach her teens. But now she has a new heart and has to learn live, and find out who she really is now her illness doesn’t define her.


Ailsa is a lovely character. She is struggling to find out who she is, having been defined so many years as the girl with the broken heart. Her health, and later her need for a transplant, have governed her life, meaning that decisions haven’t really been there to be made, or at least, any decision making has been taking out of her hands. And so when this power is returned to her she struggles to know what to do, to see what would be the right path for her, conscious that she doesn’t waste this second chance. She therefore turns to her blog followers to decide things for her. Some of the votes have a dramatic and unforseen impact on her life. It is lovely to see Ailsa develop as the story develops, gaining the confidence to believe in herself, that it is ok to make mistakes and that at some stage she has to take the plunge and make decisions for herself.

All of the other characters add something to the story, be it those who just appear on the page briefly or those like her mother, who have more of an impact on her life.


The story moves between present day and the past, where we learn more about Ailsa and her relationship with Lennox, her first love, who unfortunately didn’t survive long enough for a transplant. I liked the writing style, it felt comforting and friendly and yet not too frivolous. I found myself whizzing through the pages and I would have finished it in a day had not the urge to sleep overwhelmed me.


The book looks at many things in a fun, moving way. It exposes the need for donors and the life changing effect their selfless acts can have, from something as huge as a heart to something as small but vital as a cornea. It is a love story, with hints of Notting Hill to it. It is also a story about self realisation, about accepting ourselves but also realising we can change and grow, no matter what our age.


The warm writing and wonderful characterisation that ran through Lost for Words returns here in the lovely, moving, The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae. I’m eagerly looking forward to Stephanie Butland’s next novel.

Where the Light Gets In - Lucy Dillon

Lorna left Longhampton when she was thirteen and hasn’t returned since. Now she is thirty, and has suffered the loss of both of her parents. Inspired by Betty, a lady she visited in a hospice, she seizes the opportunity to run the art gallery in Longhampton. Accompanied by Rudy, the anxious dachshund she inherited from Betty, Lorna learns to believe in herself and that her world can change for the better when she lets the light in.


There was a lovely feel to this story, the reader soon becomes caught up in Lorna’s world. There is a balance of humour and sadness that runs throughout the tale, making it a rounded, flowing, well told story.


There are a host of wonderful characters in Where The Light Gets In. There is Lorna, still affected  by the loss of her parents, who died in quick succession. She has a close relationship with her sister Jess, the loss of their parents bringing them even closer together. Jess is a different character to Lorna, more controlled, down to earth, whose life revolves around her children and husband. Tiff, Lorna’s friend adds humour to the story. Joyce, the local artist helps Lorna in unforseen ways. As the friendship between the two develops Lorna learns more about her own hidden artistic side and she in turn helps Joyce find the joy in art again. As for Sam he helps Lorna exorcise demons from her past and opens her eyes to future opportunities.


I was a little perplexed at times with Lorna’s reactions to Sam, as I didn’t feel that the story always warranted or provided enough back story to make those reactions seem more genuine and legitimate, rather they occasionally made her appear a little overwrought, which seemed out of character. However, this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.


There is a lot to love about this story, not just the warm characters. Love runs through the novel. There is the love of art, parental love, amicable love and romantic love. Lorna discovers things about herself that she would not have ever really known if she had not taken the leap of faith again and taken over the gallery. She learns that she can be an artist, though she may not find that in the more obvious forms of art, it just takes her friends to open her eyes.


This is a story about opening your mind and heart to new possibilities and old dreams. And that letting go of the past can mean letting the light in on the future. A lovely, warm-hearted novel, I’ll be on the look out for more from Lucy Dillon in the future.

A Winter Beneath the Stars - Thomas Hardy

Halley has been employed as a travel courier for the last two years, travelling to various countries, hand delivering items. This time she is off to Sweden, to deliver wedding rings. But when there is a mix up with her bag, Halley has to get them back. The only way to do so it would seem is to travel across the frozen countryside with a stranger and a pack of dogs. Oh and a herd of reindeer. That time will allow Halley to confront her past, and maybe find a new future.


I loved the setting of the novel. The fact that my surroundings of a warm house juxtaposed nicely with the scenes depicting the snowy tundra of the Arctic may have helped that. It was lovely to read about the sledging across the snow, and to see how Halley’s view on nature and the animals she relied on changed as the story progressed.

Jo Thomas really managed to set the scene, making the frozen wilds of Sweden appealing even to this warm-blooded seeker of the sun. I could easily imagine strapping on some snow shoes and jumping on a sled, setting off on a hunt for the Northern Lights.


There are a whole host of great characters that fill the pages of this book. Halley has her issues, reasons for running from her life, which become clearer as the story progresses. Her family,  who we get a glimpse of through Halley’s reflections, seem a close-knit and welcoming bunch. Bjorn is funny and taciturn in turn, gentle with his animals but hard on himself. It was lovely to watch the story unfold and lead towards an inevitable, but welcome outcome. Lars, the enthusiastic receptionist at the Tallfors hotel reminded me of Oaken, the sauna owner in Frozen. His exuberance and view that fate would lead love to him were endearing. Pru’s nan also lent a lovely comic bent to the story.


This is a charming tale of finding your way in the dark and working towards a new light. It is about realising you have to live rather than survive and that home can be in the most unexpected of places. A lovely, warm read, perfect for a cold winter evening.

The Devil's Claw - Lara Dearman

Jenny has moved back home to Guernsey after the death of her father and a traumatic experience in London. She works as a reporter for the local newspaper and whilst out on assignment comes across the body of a young girl. Her investigation into the girl’s death leads her to links to other deaths over the last 50 years. With DCI Michael Gilbert she discovers that a serial killer may have been hiding in plain sight on the island for over half a century.


I loved the setting of the novel. The island location helps to add a layer of claustrophobia, despite the beautiful landscape. It was the threat of being on a relatively small geographical area with a serial killer that made the story seem like that it was a closed room mystery.


There are a variety of characters, all of them adding to the story. Michael is tenacious, principled and still haunted by the loss of his daughter. He is driven by her death to find the truth about the drownings. He works well with Jenny who is also a determined character and not just because of her journalist background. The two have both lost loved ones to the sea and this shared trauma helps them to bond. The fact that Jenny isn’t bound by the same procedural restrictions as Michael also makes them a good team.


The unique political and historical background for the island was fascinating and added a richness to the story. I had guessed the identity of the killer before the reveal but it was still fun to read how Jenny and Michael come to the same conclusion. There were some parts of the story that seemed a little long, though I put this down to the fact that I had identified the culprit and was waiting for the characters to catch up, and the pace picked up as the story progressed to it’s conclusion.


An enjoyable introduction to Jenny and Michael. I’m looking forward to reading more from Lara Dearman in the future.

Too Close to Breathe - Olivia Kiernan

Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has just returned to work after a traumatic event in which she nearly lost her life. Her first case appears to be a suicide but Frankie is quick to spot a clue that shows the death was caused by someone else. Soon the gears are in motion to track down the killer. And then another body is found.


Don’t be misled if you start to read this novel and think you’ve arrived in the middle of the series. You haven’t. Frankie was involved in an incident and has just returned to work when the body of Dr Eleanor Costello is found. She is still dealing with the ramifications of that previous event as she comes to investigate an apparent suicide that is in fact murder. As the story progresses Frankie has to face that history to discover what is happening in the here and now.


Frankie is brittle, dedicated and takes no-nonsense. She is hard-working and expects that from her team of detectives. She doesn’t come across as that friendly, except with her boss Jack Clancy and fellow detective Baz. The relationship between these three, and Frankie and Baz in particular, brought light relief to what is otherwise a dark novel.  It is the theme of the novel that makes it so dark, BDSM and the desire to feel death without dying is central to the plot but is not used in a gratuitous way. The story travels from Dublin to the coast and becomes a little more personal for Frankie when events happen in her home town. The reader is given only a brief glimpse into her past, but the feeling is there that these are to sow the seeds for further revalations in later books.


Too Close to Breathe is a strong debut and opener to a new series. There are other characters that make up the team, each one with their own specialism that makes for interesting dynamics. I am hoping that future books develop the characters further (with Frankie hopefully being a bit nicer to her colleagues, particularly poor Helen). The reader can only create a small picture of Frankie Sheehan from this novel. She keeps her cards close to her chest. I get the impression almost that every reader of the book will have their own vision of who the characters are.


I had figured out who the culprit was which perhaps explains why I was shaking my head at Frankie as the denouement played out, wondering how she managed to get herself into such scrapes and telling her what she should not be doing. However this did not spoil my enjoyment of the story.


An entertaining, well written novel with an unusual plot, that moves at just the right pace. I look forward to reading more from Olivia Kiernan in the future.

Come and Find Me - Sarah Hilary

There’s been a riot at Cloverton Prison. Almost unimaginable violence had occurred and, hidden by smoke from a fire, a prisoner has escaped. Michael Vokey had been writing to two women, women who may now be in the cross hairs of a violent and dangerous man.  Now Marnie Rome and her team have to find Michael Vokey before he answers one of the women’s pleas of ‘come and find me’.


A new Sarah Hilary novel is always one of the highlights of my reading year. As ever with her writing, I was immediately drawn into the story, glad to be back with well-loved characters and knowing I’d be guaranteed a story with a difference. I wasn’t disappointed.


The chapters alternate between Marnie and her team investigating the riot and Vokey’s escape with the inner monologue of Ted Elms, Vokey’s cellmate. This allows the story to evolve in layers. I did suspect the final outcome before the big reveal but that allowed me to scour even more for clues and enjoy watching Marnie and Co reach the satisfying conclusion.


Familiar characters returned and whilst it was Marnie’s investigation, Noah Jake seemed to feature more heavily. The  fractured relationship with his brother Sol continued and was developed after the ending of the last novel. The main character however, was one that actually didn’t really appear on the page, that of Michael Vokey. He’s escaped at the start of the novel and we only really find out about him from the people who circled his life. The character of Vokey emerges from the narratives of Ruth and Lara, who write to him in prison, from Ted, from his prison officer, his sister and his victim. As such he is both a real character, easily imagined and something of an enigma. Aiden Duffy makes a welcome return after featuring in Quieter Than Killing. I’m not sure of the reader is supposed to be charmed by him but this reader was. Some of Marnie’s actions did leave me feeling a little disappointed with her though. Hopefully she will have seen the error of her ways before the next novel!


Whilst not strictly necessary I would advise any new readers to start with Sarah Hilary’s first novel, Someone Else’s Skin and to read the series in order. Mainly so that you don’t miss out on a cracking set of books.


Come and Find Me is a worthy addition to the Marnie Rome series. Brilliant as always.

Soviet Milk - Nora Ikstena

Soviet Milk follows the life of an unnamed doctor in Soviet governed Latvia. Her narration is interspersed with that of her daughter, also unnamed. The story follows the mother’s battle with depression and her enforced exile to the Latvian countryside by the Government and the daughter’s struggle to show her mother reasons for living.


This is a short novel, and like all Peirene books, one that can easily be read in a couple of hours. Also like other Peirene books it is a no less effective and impacting because of its short size. The prose pulls the reader into the story, transporting them to an easily imagined Soviet run Latvia. There is a bleakness to the tale, one interspersed with the hope of youth, the sense of change that can be felt in the air as the younger woman grows. As she ages she comes to quietly question the norm of communist rule, seeking out renegades and those fighting the system without even realising it. Her mother, conversely, was once one of those who questioned the system but has now come to feel freedom from it will never been obtained.


The writing is descriptive yet paired down. There is a detachment from the narrative due to the lack of names, but yet that too lends an intimacy to the tale.


This is by no means a cheery story, however, the development of the relationship between the mother and daughter lifts the gloom, in a realistic, understated way.


Each time I read a Peirene novel I’m introduced to literature I would not usually have access to. It is eye-opening, informative and thought-provoking. A worth addition to the Peirene family.

How Much the Heart Can Hold - Various

Seven stories about seven forms of love. Can there be that many really? Well yes as How Much the Heart Can Hold shows. Each of the stories in this collection focus on a different form of love: La Douleur Exquise – the exquisite pain of unrequited love; Pragma – a longstanding love; Philautia – self love, which can either be narcissism or a noble understanding of the self; Mania – a love that is without rational thinking; Storge- familial love; Eros – romantic love or desire and Agape – unconditional, altruistic love.


This collection takes the concept of love and turns it on it’s head. These are not traditional love stories for they are not inspired by the traditional concept of love. As you read some, the love that is the inspiration to the story is obvious, with others it is more subtle, emerging from the story sometimes after it has long since been read.

As with any collection there were stories I enjoyed more than others. The ones that standout for me are Codas by Carys Bray, White Wine by Nikesh Shukla and the final story, The Human World by Bernadine Evaristo.


Codas is a moving tale of familial love, in more than one respect and one in which many readers may see reflections of their own lives. White Wine is a story of self love but not of the narcissistic type. In it we see the internal battle to love who we are, that attempts to change our core to pleases others is often futile, that the issue is the other person’s alone and that this realisation is about finally loving ourselves. The Human World is based on altruistic love, of its futility and it’s reward and is thought-provoking in its concept.


All of the stories have the ability to effect the reader. Love is, after all, one of the ruling emotions for humans. The stories are moving, thought provoking, familiar and also unknown.


A varied, interesting, contemplative collection, with an unusual but effective theme.

The Division Bell Mystery - Ellen Wilkinson

A wealthy American financier is found shot dead, alone in a room. Initial thoughts are that he killed himself but parliamentary private secretary Robert West isn’t so sure, especially when the financier’s granddaughter insists that it was murder. Bob is soon caught up in trying to uncover the truth, without creating a national crisis in the process.

The setting of the Houses of Parliament lend an air of intrigue to the novel. There is something a little remote and otherworldly about this institution that everyone is aware of but where only a few know the inner workings. This book gives a little glimpse of what it would have been like 80 years ago to walk the halls and in particular give a brief insight into what it may have been like to be a woman MP.


There are moments that are dated but also still relevant somewhat to today. The way women are viewed, particularly in the traditionally patriarchical society of government, was more obvious now than it may have been when the book was first published. However I think that was the author’s intention. She was an MP and would have faced such treatment and thoughtless assumption that her ideals and position were secondary. West is enamoured of Miss Oissel, to the point were he is very nearly blind to everything else. He compares her to his friend Grace, barely noticing how he hurts her in the process.


West is a character that I both liked and disliked in equal measure. He is arrogant but almost unaware of it, which makes it somewhat more forgivable. He is dismissive of women but respects them and his stubborn nature almost means that the mystery remains unsolved.


The murder itself is engaging, the very definition of a locked room mystery. How can a man be murdered in a room when the only means of escape for a murderer is through a door that has three people standing outside? The denouement is given, not with a big reveal with many flourishes, but in a matter of fact manner and is somewhat tongue in cheek given it is not Bob West who finds the final clue to solving the puzzle.


Every book I read in the British Library crime classics has something to recommend it. There is something eminently entertaining about their novels, each one bringing with it a glimpse of the past. The Division Bell Mystery is no different. It is a worthy inclusion into the series.

The Retreat - Mark Edwards

Lucas has come to the writing retreat to write an overdue, difficult, novel, living under the shadow of his last best-seller and a personal loss. It’s just coincidence that the retreat is located in his childhood town. There he finds Julia, the retreat owner, suffering her own loss following the disappearance of her daughter and the death of her husband. Everyone tells Julia her daughter is dead but she refuses to believe them. When mysterious events begin to occur in the house rumours abound about a legendary widow but Lucas and Julia are sure they are on the hunt for more someone more real and more dangerous.


There is a sense of malice running through the novel. There is the claustrophobia of the small town, the fact that everyone knows everyone else. The retreat itself seems closed off, separated by Julia’s grief as much as geography. There’s the legend of the Widow, weaved throughout the story and then there’s the fact that Lucas is a horror writer so sees the macabre in things in any event and finds it easier to see the story of his bestseller reflected in his surroundings.


There are a host of characters that fill the story, some having more involvement than others. There’s Karen, whose claims of things going bump in the night are questioned as being the result of drug use, Max who at first appears to be nothing but a snobbish Lothario and Suzi, a fellow resident at the retreat. There are the locals who all have some secret to hide. Then there’s Lucas and Julia. Lucas is a mixture of driven and despondent. His motivation for helping Julia seems to be driven as much by desire as it does by altruism. Julia herself is understandable downcast. She flits between melancholy and fierceness, sometimes to the point where the ferocity of her actions is a little extreme.


There doesn’t seem to be much happening for the first third of the story and then the pace picks up and the narrative kicks in. Some parts worked better for me than others. As said previously the sense of claustrophobia and malice was created well in the story, with seeds of doubt sown throughout and the limited character/suspect pool lends suspicion to be thrown every which way. The setting of the story in the retreat worked well and I enjoyed the air of suspicion a group of people used to making things up created. It also made me want to attend a retreat and get writing, though perhaps not at this particular retreat! There were parts that didn’t work so well for me, such as a rather incongruous love scene and the last couple of pages seemed a little too much, though I could see how they could also be argued as vital to the story.


If you like your thrillers with a hint of horror to them then The Retreat is for you. An interesting read.

A Secret Garden - Katie Fforde

Lorna is in charge of the garden at the country house estate of childhood friend Peter. She loves her job and also happens to love Peter. Peter meanwhile has met and fallen head over heels for Kirstie. Philly ran away from home with her grandfather. Together they live in a rather ramshackle holding, where Philly can raise her plants and Grand can bake his cakes that they sell at the local market. At a dinner party held for Kirstie, Lorna meets Jack and Philly meets Lucian. But as the year goes on and Lorna and Philly work on a newly discovered secret garden it appears that not everything is coming up roses in their relationships.


I always find myself speeding through a Katie Fforde novel. I would have finished A Secret Garden in a day if real life hadn’t got in the way. I was soon wrapped up in the lives and loves of Lorna, Philly and their friends.


As I’ve come to expect there was a mixture of characters. There were the lovely ones, easy to warm to. There were the awkward ones, snobbish ones and down right rude ones. All come together to create an entertaining and warm-hearted tale.


Katie Fforde novels are always great escapism. I don’t care that people fall in love almost immediately, and marry at the drop of a hat. There are some who say that they can be predictable. I like that. Yes real life isn’t always like that but sometimes is nice to escape from reality. In a time where life can be anything but predictable, settling down to read a story where you know there will be a happy ending is sometimes just what you need.


A lovely way to while away a few hours. I’m already looking forward to the next book by Katie Fforde.

The Little Shop of Happy Ever After - Jenny Colgan

this book is known as The Little Shop of Happy Ever After in the UK but for some reason the updates I've tried to make haven't been kept.


Nina finds herself on the brink of redundancy. She loves being a librarian, being surrounded by books and finding the right book for the right person. But redundancy brings Nina the opportunity to open her own bookshop. It just happens that the bookshop is in the back of a van. And the need for the bookshop is in Scotland, not Birmingham where she lives. Finding the courage she didn’t know she had, Nina moves to the highlands. But things don’t always go as planned.


Books about books have a special feel about them. Books celebrating the love of the literary, the joy of accessing books of all forms are a bibliophile’s boon. There was a lovely atmosphere to this tale and I was soon wrapped up in the lives of Nina and co.

I loved the idea of the bookshop, tootling around the local villages, taking in all of the beautiful scenery. Some of the books mentioned in the novel were so well described that I found myself looking them up to see if they were available to buy, only to find that they were created purely as part of this story.


The book is full of charming characters. Nina is lovely and as the story progresses the reader sees her rediscovering herself, finding strength, confidence and drive she wasn’t aware she possessed. The villagers are a lovely bunch and together with Nina’s friends bring humour and warmth to the story. Then there are Marek and Lennox, two men between whom Nina is torn. Both bring different qualities to the story. It is though Nina who drives the narrative.


A lovely, entertaining way to spend a few hours. I’ll be reading more by Jenny Colgan soon.

Dark Pines - Will Dean

Tuva Moodyson has moved to Gavrik to be near her ill mother. The small Swedish town is surrounded by huge pine forests. The trouble is, Tuva isn’t a fan of the woods. Her ideal scenery would be the bright lights of a big city. She spends her days writing about the small news of a small town. Then a body is found in the forest, a man, shot, and with his eyes removed. It echoes back to 20 years ago when three bodies with similar injuries were found. Can Tuva find out who’s been hunting more than Elk before more bodies turn up?


There is very much a closed room feel to Dark Pines, despite it being set in the vastness of the pine forest. The many trees begin to feel oppressive, the fact that anything could be hiding just out of sight helps to ratchet up the tension. There’s also a limited number of suspects which again aids to increase the unease.


Tuva is a great character. Tenacious, driven, with a genuine understanding that the news matters, and that it is important to report it well. It was refreshing to realise that the reader doesn’t really know much about Tuva but is still drawn to her. We know that something happened in London when she lived there, though not what. We know she is deaf, and how that deafness came about. We find out about her difficult relationship with her mother after the death of her father. But we are never really told what she looks like, except her age and that she has hair long enough to put in a pony tail. The reader is left to create Tuva in their own conjured image.


There are an eclectic group of characters in Dark Pines, from the hoarder, to the lonely taxi driver and the troll whittling sisters. All add to the story, driving it along to it’s satisfying conclusion.


I was also endeared towards Tuva when I saw her diet of digestive biscuits for breakfast, supplemented by Thai food and wine gums, which mirrored my own favoured food groups.


I had figured out quite early on in the story who the killer was. However it was fun to sit back and see the story unfold. And it allowed me to indulge in worrying about whether Tuva would submit her stories in time, would she ever remember to replace the batteries in her hearing aid and whether she’d have the whole case wrapped up in time to visit her mother.


Sometimes an author paints such a picture of the world their story is set in that the reader becomes enmeshed in it. I was rather disappointed to turn the final page and realise I was not actually stuck in the middle of a Swedish pine forest. Though this was of course tempered by the fact that I was also not in the crosshairs of a hunting rifle.

However, the book should come with a warning that it is extremely grippy. And that you’ll need some wine gums to eat whilst you read.


In Dark Pines Will Dean has created a vibrant, refreshing and engaging new protagonist and has firmly cemented himself as one of my new favourite authors. I impatiently await Red Snow, the next book in the Tuva Moodyson series. Highly recommended. Now where are those wine gums I bought…