A Blind Eye by Marion Todd

A Blind Eye by Marion Todd

Set in St Andrews, A Blind Eye is the seventh book to feature DI Clare Mackay. Local solicitor Harry Richards is found in his car in the middle of Tentsmuir Forest with his throat cut. There is no obvious motive, but as the team investigate it soon comes to light that he was not as squeaky clean as he first appeared. When the wife of one of Harry’s colleagues dies in a bizarre car crash, the team start to wonder if there is a connection. Clare has her eye on Colin Grandison, up to his neck in money lending and property scams, but he is a slippery character and always manages to avoid getting caught.

The plot is linear with the narrative taking place over the course of nine days. Normally, a DCI would be called in to take charge, but they are all busy elsewhere so Clare just has to get on with it. She has a good team behind her, and this is probably what a real investigation is actually like – lots of checking and re-checking to get solid enough evidence for a prosecution, with the added complication of working around solicitor/client confidentiality.

Marion Todd paints an affectionate picture of St Andrews and the surrounding Fife countryside. The characters of the detectives are fleshed out just enough to make them believable, but not so much that their lives intrude on the investigation. There is a lot of humour to offset the serious nature of the crimes they have to deal with. Robbie’s struggles with his mental health are handled in a sensitive manner. This is one of my favourite Scottish crime series, and I look forward to reading the next one. Thanks to Canelo Crime and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Theory of (Not Quite) Everything by Kara Gnodde

The Theory of Not Quite Everything by Kara Gnodde

The Theory of (Not Quite) Everything is the debut novel from South African author Kara Gnodde. Since the death of their parents, thirteen years previously, Mimi Brotherton has looked after her brother Art, who is a mathematical genius and somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Mimi has made a lot of sacrifices over the years so that Art can work on his research. At the start of the book she has reached breaking point and gives up her museum job to work with her friend Rey as a trainee foley artist (interesting to learn what this involves). Art has difficulty with social and personal relationships, and does not appreciate how trapped and isolated Mimi feels. When she decides to use a dating app, Art thinks the whole process can be worked out using an algorithm, but Mimi does not believe maths is the answer to everything. She meets Frank at a maths conference, but does not give her real name as she wants to be accepted for herself and not as Art’s sister. At first, Frank seems too good to be true, but Art views him with suspicion. From then on, once the seed of doubt had been planted I had trouble shaking it off. Does Frank have an ulterior motive – you’ll have to keep on reading to find out.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Mimi and Art so we get a balanced view of what they are both thinking. The characters have depth and do develop as the story progresses. At times it was painful to read, but this was balanced by humour, although you could never describe The Theory of (Not Quite) Everything as a romantic comedy.  Art’s autism is treated in a sensitive manner, but I really felt for Mimi as he had real trouble understanding how she feels. I knew nothing about this unusual book before I started reading, but I was pleasantly surprised and will definitely look out for Kara Gnodde’s next book. Thanks to Pan Macmillan, Mantle and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Anything But Graceful by DG Driver

Anything but Graceful by DG Driver

I chose Anything But Graceful from the books offered to Rosie’s Book Review Team. It is listed as a second chance romance novel, but I would suggest it sits better in the category of women’s fiction as it is about so much more than romance. Grace Fuller is in her early fifties, a Hollywood estate agent who attends ballet classes in her spare time. She loved ballet as a child, but had to stop as her mother could no longer afford the classes. She takes it up again in her twenties, principally as a way to lose some weight, but it soon becomes the most important thing in her life.

At a house viewing one day, she is surprised to encounter Tyler Andrews, who she hasn’t seen since they were in drama classes together over thirty years ago. She loved him back then, but he abandoned her with no explanation, and soon after she gave up on her dreams of working in musical theatre. Tyler introduces her to his agent and she is offered a second chance, but self-doubt clouds her judgement – she still cannot believe she is good enough.

This is a fascinating glimpse into a world I know nothing about. Grace shows great determination and perseverance in continuing to dance, despite the obstacles in her path. She is still attracted to Tyler, but is haunted by the past. The writing here is excellent, the characters well drawn, and the Hollywood setting adds a touch of glamour. I admired Grace and liked that as the main character in this book she was an older woman. I was not so sure about Tyler as his behaviour left a lot of room for doubt. Thank you to DG Driver and Satin Romance for a digital copy to review.

Finding Jack by Sofia Due

Finding Jack by Sofia Due

I really enjoyed Finding Jack and, as always, it is much harder to put this into words than if I had not been so keen. The main characters, Gennie and Jack, are such a pleasure to read – they both have troubled pasts, and a lot of adjusting to do, but cannot help but be drawn to each other.

Gennie and her daughter have moved back to Cornwall following the death of her husband. She has taken up a residential post on a farm, working for a charity set up by Marion to help disadvantaged young people. Marion’s son Jack, newly returned from Africa, is also working on the farm. A former soldier, injured in an explosion that killed his best friend, Jack is fighting his demons, but has not lost his humanity. He wants to be there for his daughter, and works hard to make the charity a success.

Gennie and Jack met briefly many years ago and had left a lasting impression on each other. They are very different people now, scarred by what they have been through, but the attraction is still there. Their relationship is portrayed in a realistic fashion, as they work through the obstacles that stand in their way. Finding Jack is a wonderful heartwarming story despite dealing with some very serious issues – the destructive power of addiction, human trafficking and slavery, grief, PTSD – but there is a lot of humour to balance it out. Highlights for me were the Cornish setting, the art classes and the cute dog that steals the show. This is the first book I have read by Sofia Due, but it won’t be the last. Thanks to The Book Guild and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

A Bird in Winter by Louise Doughty

A Bird in Winter by Louise Doughty

One day, in the middle of a meeting with her colleagues in their Birmingham office, Heather just ups and leaves, picking up her go-bag on the way. What follows is part spy thriller, part travelogue and part trip down memory lane. It is essentially a journey, both literally and figuratively. It is refreshing that the main character is a woman in her fifties – she is capable, fit and can take care of herself. She is also vulnerable just because she is a woman travelling alone. Louise Doughty gives us a realistic depiction of life on the run (not as glamorous as it is in the movies) where Heather has to be constantly vigilant and can never trust anyone.

As she makes her escape, her past life is gradually revealed, along with the possible reason for her sudden flight. She has a lot of time on her hands and ponders what has led her to this point. I really enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of the places she was travelling through, some of which I recognised – Scotland, Orkney, Shetland, Norway and Iceland. In my view, it is only a matter of time before A Bird in Winter ends up on the big screen.

The marketing department might have given a slightly false impression of this book; it is not an ‘action-packed’ thriller, but a much more nuanced piece of writing. Heather aka Bird is an unusual character, not particularly likeable, and her story is compelling. I have not read anything by Louise Doughty before, but will certainly investigate her back catalogue having been really impressed by the quality of her writing. Thanks to Faber & Faber and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.