The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

It is now two years on from The Stone Circle and much has changed, not least Ruth having relocated to Cambridge. All the usual characters are there, but the new setting makes everything feel slightly off-kilter to the reader and Ruth, who is clearly having trouble adjusting to her new life.

Despite hoping for a new start, it is obvious that life with Frank is not quite right. Ruth’s main impetus for moving away was to put some distance between herself and Nelson; in this she does not succeed, and the books would not have the same appeal without their relationship at its heart.

Ivor March has been imprisoned for murdering two young women, but will not divulge where two other bodies are buried. In an attempt to get closure for the missing girls’ families, DCI Nelson goes to visit March in prison. The upshot is he will only reveal the location if Ruth is in charge of the excavations.

There is an interconnectedness to the plot with Ruth having been on a writing retreat run by March’s ex-wife, Cathbad’s daughter reporting on the case for the local paper and Nelson’s daughter being a member of the local cycling group. As we have come to expect from Elly Griffiths, there is misdirection galore, and plenty of red herrings to keep the reader guessing.

This series is all the more enjoyable because the cast of characters are so familiar; they are at the heart of the stories, much more so than the mysteries. You could read The Lantern Men as a standalone, but to make sense of all the relationships it would be much better to start at the beginning. The sense of place, mix of crime and archeology, cast of well-written and well-loved characters, and Elly Griffiths’ usual wit and humour all combine to make this a thoroughly entertaining read.  Let’s hope we see Ruth return to Norfolk in the next book!

The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

The Lost Love Song is a very unusual story about the power of music and memory. Many years after the tragic death of his girlfriend, Diana, Arie hears a melody reminiscent of the one she had written and played for him the night before she left; she had planned to finish the song while on tour.

After several years travelling overseas, Evie returns to Melbourne and just happens to rent the house next door to Arie. She had heard two young musicians playing the song at Waverley Station in Edinburgh, and never forgotten it.  The haunting melody has stayed with her and she is trying to play it on her guitar when Arie overhears, and it triggers his last memories of Diana.

Diana’s love song leaves an impression on everyone who hears it, and it makes its way around the world, from musician to musician, until someone adds lyrics and records it. The melody may have changed slightly, but the essential feeling is still there.

Despite being attracted to Evie, Arie does not feel quite ready for a new relationship, and lets her slip through his fingers with no way of getting in touch. Will Diana’s song help Arie move on and find love again with Evie?

A lot of the story is set in Australia, which is unusual, and I confess I had to get the atlas out to find the places mentioned in the book. I also found Evie’s poems very moving, and was glad she did not give up on her dreams.

The characters are well rounded and believable. The Lost Love Song deals with grief and loss in a very sensitive way, particularly how Arie and Belinda (Diana’s mother) find it hard to move on without her body to lay to rest. It is also about love, hope and second chances; despite the tragedy, the story is ultimately uplifting and hopeful.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC to review.

When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

When the Lights Go Out is the story of Emma, Chris and their sons, Dylan and James, who are living in north west England during a very prolonged, unseasonal spell of heavy rainfall.

They do not see eye to eye about the climate change argument. Emma is the main breadwinner and seems to be holding the family together, while making small doable changes to their lifestyle such as recycling, using public transport and creating homemade gifts. Chris has lost a lot of his gardening work due to the effects of the inclement weather and subsequent flooding. He is taking extreme measures, such as stockpiling food in the garage and preaching in the street about the coming environmental apocalypse, regardless of the suffering he is inflicting on his family.

In the spirit of compromise, Emma has been putting up with Chris’s strange and obsessive behaviour, but eventually she reaches her ‘red line’ and he realizes he has gone too far. I won’t spoil it for you by saying any more.

The writing is very atmospheric – you can almost feel the dampness seeping into your bones – and the descriptions of Chris’s strange behaviour depict an evangelical obsession which echoes the religious zealotry displayed by his family (particularly his father) when he was growing up.

The pace is quite slow to begin with, and I found it took me a while to get into the story. The point of view is split between Emma and Chris, with occasional chapters from James, and Chris’s mother Janet. I found it quite hard to empathize with Chris’s fanatical obsession, as he could no longer see how his behaviour was affecting everyone else.

 The story works on many levels: a family drama about a marriage under severe stress; all the differing views surrounding climate change; the effects of parents’ behaviour and beliefs on their children. It could have been quite a depressing tale, but is saved by the black humour.

I had not read anything by Carys Bray before, but will definitely try some of her previous books. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC to review.

Five Hundred Miles From You by Jenny Colgan

Five Hundred Miles From You by Jenny Colgan

Five Hundred Miles From You is the third of Jenny Colgan’s books set in the Scottish village of Kirrinfief, but works fine as a standalone. The action is split between Scotland and London, and somehow the contrast gives the narrative a disjointed feel.

Lissa and Cormac are both Nurse Practitioner Liaisons working in the community, who swap locations for six months after Lissa experiences a traumatic event while on duty in London. To begin with they are both well out of their comfort zones, but slowly come to appreciate things about their new surroundings.

I loved the idea behind the story, but did not feel that it worked all that well. There was little or no chemistry in the exchanges between the main characters, they seemed to spend more time getting to know their neighbours than each other, and the ending was disappointing and a bit far-fetched.

I loved the descriptions of the Scottish countryside, but found the gritty realism of life in London too much of a contrast. I have read and enjoyed a lot of Jenny Colgan’s earlier books, and will continue even though this one did not really work for me. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC to review.

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

I have been reading Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series of novels from the very first one, Crossing Places; this is number eleven. It was a real pleasure to jump back into the world of Ruth and Nelson. While you could read this as a standalone, there are lots of references to things that happened in previous books. It would probably be better to start at the beginning in order to get the most out of them.

During the course of an archaeological dig, the remains of a 12-year-old girl are found. Margaret Lacey disappeared in 1981 during a street party celebrating the royal wedding, and her killer was never caught. DI Nelson receives anonymous letters very similar to ones sent to him in the first book, but they cannot be from the same person as he is long dead. The investigation that follows features suspects and red herrings galore; I did not guess who the murderer was, but very rarely do.

Part of the appeal of this series is the setting – a salt marsh on the north Norfolk coast – which lends the stories an atmospheric quality; it is a beautiful landscape, but treacherous if you don’t know your way around.

Another attraction is the cast of familiar characters, most of whom have been there since the beginning, who continue to evolve and grow as the series progresses. Ruth does not play as large a part in this story as she usually does, but she is always there, on the periphery. The overriding theme of The Stone Circle is complicated and difficult family relationships, both among the police officers and the people they are investigating.

If you enjoy reading well-established crime series, with characters that come to seem like old friends, I suggest you start with the first book; I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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