Holy Island by LJ Ross

Holy Island by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

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.

Murder and mystery are peppered with a sprinkling of romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set on the spectacular Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, cut off from the English mainland by a tidal causeway.

On somewhat enforced sabbatical on Holy Island, DCI Ryan is surprised but willing when the murder of a young woman on the island forces his bosses hand into cutting his rest period short. With the window for the murder clearly proving the only suspects are those of the regular island residents, DCI Ryan initially thinks this will be a quick case and he can start to reclaim his usual life back. What at first seems a simple enough case quickly turns convoluted, with ritual and possibly pagan overtures, historical elements and more than a few skeletons in the closet Ryan quickly realizes this case will be anything but clear cut and simple.

I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and by the time I was half way through I had purchased the second in the series. While the small island was a delightfully picturesque setting with a small and sleepy coastal kind of feel, the delicious elements of a complex history and an interesting cast of characters this book from the first page had enough excellent points to capture my attention. I was so pleased that the author did an exceptional job laying out the scene – giving me as the reader enough backstory into DCI Ryan to understand where his character was coming from but still leaving plenty of mystery around him that I was eager to read and discover more.

The trappings of a “closed room mystery” also really appealed to me. With the island cut off by the tides and a set window for the murder occurring there was a definite number of suspects which on the surface makes things easier but of course people – and their secrets, skeletons and motives – are always so much more complicated than that.

The only point where I felt the author lost some ground with me with the incorporation of an attraction and fledgling romance between Dr Anna Taylor (a civilian expert called in from the University) and DCI Ryan. While I am all for a well written romance, the addition of this attraction and chemistry between Anna and Ryan felt a little stilted to me, personally, particularly at the start when there were a lot of other plot points occurring.

In most ways this is an impressive book – with a number of strong elements to the plot (the setting of the Island, the numerous characters, the police procedural aspects of the case and the pagan/ritual aspects to the crime as well as the many motives and elements of the investigation). Adding in a romance on top of that while understandable, really made me feel as if the book was somewhat bloated, particularly when I think back and realise had those romance elements been cut from the book I feel it would have been stronger – not lessened in any way for me, personally.

I also feel I should note that right at the very end of the story – when I believed all the loose ends of the plot had been very satisfactorily wrapped up, there was a bit of a twist added in the final few pages. While definitely not a cliffhanger, I feel some readers mightn’t be impressed that the author added a few extra tidbits after the murder plot had been fully revealed and solved. I have no idea if the author did this to whet the appetite of the reader to purchase the second book, which I am guessing will follow closely along behind this story and pick up on the twist in those final few pages, but instead of leaving me the reader very satisfied with a complicated – and solved – murder, it instead left me feeling as if I’d snuck a read of the first few pages of the next book and left feeling somewhat incomplete.

I should reiterate this is an exceptionally well written book. I loved the plot – it was quite complicated and well threaded together, there were a large number of interesting characters, some great police procedural work and a really striking setting. I will definitely be reading the second book in the series and count this as a new author found for my own reading pile.

Readers looking for a fast paced or action-orientated story might find this lacking for their tastes. Personally I prefer the slower, step-by-step style the book has taken. It helped give me a really good feel for the township, the setting, the characters and the overall air of the storyline. I could well understand it won’t suit all readers and many with more modern tastes would likely expect more action and drama and a faster pace. I thought the plot was very well woven together – with a few hints and tips and false leads which should keep most readers turning the pages. Overall I was really happy with the pace and writer’s style and was really pleased to have found this new series.

For a slower moving story with a delightful setting and interesting characters this is a good read and I feel it’s an excellent debut novel. I’ll certainly be checking the next story in the series out.

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