Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that were published over a year ago. Not to mention those that are languishing on the to be read pile for whatever reason.
Holy Island is a debut novel and since this was published four more books in the series have followed, which I’ve also read. The beautiful cover attracted me immediately and I chose it for my second of Rosie Amber’s Friday Five Challenges – which you can find here – where we had five minutes to choose a book which appealed based initially on the cover and the blurb. Apart from the appeal of the cover, crime/mystery is a favourite genre. Because I chose to buy I mentioned the fact I hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be more romance than mystery. It didn’t! Far from it.
The story is set on Lindisfarne or Holy Island, just off the coast of Northumberland and begins with the murder and ritual laying out of twenty-one year old Lucy Mathieson, coinciding with the winter solstice. As local lady, Liz Morgan, is walking her dog the next morning she stumbles upon the carefully arranged naked body, on a stone altar in the ruins of the Priory.
‘He lowered his camera and frowned. The girl looked like she had been arranged. She lay there naked, palms both upwards, outstretched. Blood from the gash he could see matting the hair at her temple had been used to mark her forehead and palms, to sweep lines along her torso from chest to navel. Her hair seemed to have been combed out to frame her face. He sniffed the air. Amid the ripe scent of the beginnings of decay, there was definitely something else. Something herbal, which made him think inappropriately of curry. He filed the thought away and looked again.’
On the other side of the village DCI Maxwell Ryan is a couple of months into a three months leave of absence, ordered by the Northumbria Police Constabulary, in order to recover after a particularly personally devastating case. After learning of the murder Ryan is reinstated by his boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Arthur Gregson, so he’s back on active duty and heading the investigation.
Anna Taylor, who was born and brought up on the island, is an authority on pagan rituals and is returning as a civilian consultant at DCS Gregson’s request. He contacted her through the University where she is a professor. It’s not an easy homecoming for Anna, after the deaths of her parents and the strained to breaking point relationship with her sister who still lives on the island.
It’s obvious from the start Ryan has a tragic back story and although it’s not clear, to begin with, why he had to take a sabbatical, snippets are woven into the narrative until the reason becomes apparent. Evil is permeating the community of Holy Island, and the residents who mostly all know each other, can’t believe one of their own would commit such an act. But worse is yet to come.
This is a debut novel, I knew that already and was very pleased to find such a well written, descriptive and atmospheric narrative. I loved the imagery of Holy Island, enjoyed the realistic, complex main characters and the banter between Ryan and his team. Good pacing and the tension is kept up throughout. The plot is intricate, island life and action blending together, and the ending! Totally unexpected and quite shocking.
Thankfully the romance aspect didn’t overtake the main story but the phrasing in those scenes is sometimes a little exaggerated. The cast of characters is large and was confusing at first, until I got everyone straight in my mind. But, having said that, the plot is very interesting and well done, the characters engaging. I enjoyed the book very much, certainly enough to buy the second one.
Detective Chief Inspector Ryan retreats to Holy Island seeking sanctuary when he is forced to take sabbatical leave from his duties as a homicide detective. A few days before Christmas, his peace is shattered and he is thrust back into the murky world of murder when a young woman is found dead amongst the ancient ruins of the nearby Priory.
When former local girl Dr Anna Taylor arrives back on the island as a police consultant, old memories swim to the surface making her confront her difficult past. She and Ryan struggle to work together to hunt a killer who hides in plain sight, while pagan ritual and small-town politics muddy the waters of their investigation.