The Driftwood Girls, by Mark Douglas-Home

Cal McGill is the Sea Detective. He solves crimes with his knowledge of how currents and tides operate. I really enjoyed the first in the series, The Sea Detective, when I read it a few years ago.

A few years ago, I read this article, The Wetsuitman, about the mystery behind two bodies that had washed up on North Sea beaches in Norway and on the Dutch island of Texel. Straight away I thought of Cal McGill, the Sea Detective.

And so to the Driftwood Girls. I do not know whether Mark Douglas-Home had read about the ‘Wetsuitman’. I guess he probably had. In this story, two women had gone missing on opposite sides of the English Channel 23 years earlier, the body of one of them being found on Texel. The fact that their stories are connected does not become clear for quite a while, but the threads are slowly drawn together. The story starts with other things: a clandestine night time burial at sea in a Scottish sea loch, a missing sister, daughter of a long-missing mother, three apparently unconnected people who have made their lives on a Dutch island.

Possibly the ending is a little too neat. But overall, an excellent story, definitely the best since the first in the series. So I’m going to mark it 8 out of 10.

33. The Blood Strand, by Chris Ould

Here’s a variation on the Nordic Noir theme: British cop helps solve a murder in the Faroes.

Jan Reyna’s mother took him away from the Faroe Islands when he was 3. Now in his forties, he returns to visit his estranged father, who is seriously ill. as I said, he is a policeman in the UK: by fortunate coincidence, a Detective Inspector specialising in homicide cases.

And, guess what – there’s a murder. It’s sort of all tied up with what happened to his father. It’s sort of got connections to why his mother (now dead) left all those years ago. And so Jan gets involved as a kind of consultant to the detectives in Torshavn.

This novel has what appear to be the classic ingredients of a good Nordic Noir. The bleak setting. The taciturn locals. The years old unsolved mystery.

I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook. I got the impression that the author, Chris Ould, speaks Faroese. Also the narrator, Matt Addis, prononounced Faroese words and the occasional snippet of Faroese speech fluently: definite plus points for this audiobook.

This novel is the first of three. I understand that in the next two Reyna digs deeper into his family’s past, and the story of why is mother left is revealed.

I shall be back for more of this series. 8 out of 10.

32. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Hmmm. I just don’t know.

This book has been a great success. A best seller, a book club choice.

It comes across as a gothic-type novel set in Barcelona in some parallel universe. A sort of detective story about the writer of a mysterious book.

I enjoyed. I wanted to know how the story would pan out.

But …

There wasn’t quite the spark that made this book magical for me.

And I do wish that about 3/4 of the way through the author had not resorted to the device of a long letter from a deceased character (“If you are reading this it’s because something has happened to me”, that kind of thing). That trickery was not necessary, and frankly I had worked out most of what the author found it necessary to say by that means.

But a fairly gripping story. I shall probably come back to the next one – apparently there are 4 in the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ series.

Now for my mark. As I said, I just don’t know. 8/10. And (because of that letter) 6/10. You decide.

29. Coffin Road, by Peter May

Peter May writes good crime thrillers, no doubt about it. I really enjoyed the Lewis trilogy a few years ago. Entry Island was superb.

And so I settled down to this book, listening on my commutes over the last couple of weeks. The story hooks you from the start. OK, so the initial scene of a man washed up on a beach having lost his memory and not knowing who he is or what he is doing there is not entirely original, but it grabs attention, and we go from there.

And the story goes on. The pace never lets up. All the way to the final scene, which other reviewers would no doubt call ‘explosive’.

One thing I love is the descriptions of Lewis and Harris. I really need to visit the Outer Hebrides!

Yes, a good yarn. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the books I mentioned earlier, so 8 out of 10.

24. Reservoir 13, by John McGregor

An interesting book.  This is the story of the rhythms of life in a village, somewhere in central England, by hills and moorland.

It starts with the search for a missing girl. She is never found. But life goes on, albeit that the missing girl is never far from mind.

13 years come and go. the kids who knew the girl grow up, go away to university, some return. In the village there are births, deaths, marriages, divorces. People come and go. The events that mark the calendar – New Year, the cricket match against the neighbouring village – these are all marked.

John McGregor also marks the seasons in the woods and hills – the cycle as trees and crops grow, the foxes and badgers, the buzzards and goldcrests.

Reading this book, one settles into the rhythm, while observing the gradual changes. And wondering what happened to that 13 year old girl. Except she would now be 17, or 20, or, by the end, 26.

I have thought long and hard about what mark to give: 8 out of 10.

20. Trap, by Lilja Sigurdardottir.

Trap is part 2 in the trilogy which begins with Snare.  I think it is best read as the second act in a three act drama.

It continues the story of Sonja and Agla well, building up to the third part, Cage – due out in October 2019.  The blurb on Cage will no doubt describe it as the ‘explosive’ conclusion, they always do, and I hope it will live up to that billing.

I am not sure how well this book works as a stand-alone work, and not as part 2 of 3.

I gave Snare 8/10, so Trap gets the same.  When I read Cage, I will give the series an overall rating.

16. Snare, by Lilja Sigurdardottir

Another Icelandic crime story, set in the aftermath of the banking crash and the Eyjafallajokull volcano that closed down air traffic in (I think) 2010.

Sonja is divorced. She has no money. She becomes a drugs courier, bringing cocaine into Iceland. She is in an on-off relationship with Agla, who is facing criminal investigation for her role in financial scandals. For a large part of the book, the story is about Sonja and Customs officer Bragi, who is sure she is up to no good.  But then the twists and turns happen…

This is the promising first in a trilogy.  More soon. 8 out of 10.