The Lost Man, by Jane Harper

I listened to The Dry earlier this year, and rated it 10 out of 10. Reviews of her other books suggested that I should read The Lost Man rather than Force of Nature, the second novel featuring Aaron Falk, the detective from The Dry. So I bought this paperback, earmarking it for a break we were due to take in May (Covid-19 put paid to that trip).

Anyway, I have just finished this novel. I started it a week ago, but read about 90% of it in just two days. So it is very easy to read.

Another story set in the blistering heat of the Australian Outback, in a small remote community. Yes, there is a death, and yes, there are hidden family secrets to be worked out and resolved.

A well plotted and satisfying book. There is an oblique connection to a couple of the characters in The Dry, but this is quite unimportant, and you do not need to have read that book.

And ultimately, I was left wondering if the title, The Lost Man, is about the man who died, or about the man who has come some way towards finding himself.

I can certainly recommend The Lost Man. But it did not, however, hit the heights of The Dry. 8 out of 10.

Death In Ten Minutes, by Fern Riddell

Death In Ten Minutes is a biography of Kitty Marion, militant suffragette and campaigner for birth control.

In this book, Fern Riddell tells a story that seems to have been largely brushed under the carpet, not least by leading suffragettes who sanitised the movement’s history after they had achieved their objective of getting women the vote. I was not previously aware that in the years before the First World War a branch of the suffragette movement had been carrying out what we would describe as acts of terrorism. There was arson, there were bombings. Emily Davison throwing herself under the King’s horse in the Derby was far from the worst act of this provisional wing.

Kitty Marion was a leading militant. She was imprisoned several times, and brutally force fed when on hunger strike.

Her story has additional interest. Being of German parentage, she was deported in the war, and went to New York, where she became a campaigner for the growing birth control movement.

Fern Riddell writes Kitty’s story as part of the story of feminism. As a music hall artist, Kitty had experienced sexual harrassment from impresarios and agents. Ms Riddell is able to relate this to the current “Me Too” movement.

This is a very interesting and readable book, a very accessible piece of history writing. 8 out of 10.

The Wanderer, by Michael Ridpath

This crime thriller set in Iceland and then Greenland is the 5th in Michael Ridpath’s ‘Fire and Ice’ series. Previously Magnus, the Icelandic born but American raised homicide detective seconded from Boston to Reykjavik has solved 4 murders, while at the same time over those 4 novels resolving the unsolved mystery of who murdered his father (the genre requires this kind of old family mystery).

Her we are a few years later. Magnus had gone back to Boston, but has now returned to Iceland.

A television crew is filmng a documentary series about Guðríðr Þorbjarnardóttir, who about 1000 years ago sailed from Iceland to Greenland and then somewhere in North America, and later visited Rome*. Of course there is a murder. As Magnus investigates, there is another, and then after the tv crew has moved on to Greenland, a third. There is also a (recent) historical element to the story, but this time not involving Magnus’ family.

The plot and the narrative develop well. This is certainly a page-turner, although I felt that it wasn’t quite as strong as the first four, set in Magnus’ first stint in Iceland. Thie difference is small, however: only 1 mark on my scale.

I’m giving this 8 out of 10.

*Read a little more about Guðríðr Þorbjarnardóttir here . I have also bought Valkyrie, Women of the Viking World by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir so as to read more about Guðríðr and other viking women.

The Killing Bay, by Chris Ould

This is the second in Chris Ould’s trilogy of crime novels set on the Faroe Islands, coming after The Blood Strand. I am not sure how well it works as a stand alone novel; this book comes across very much as part 2 of 3.

That said, it is a very good continuation of the story of English DI Jan Reyna, and his return to the islands where his mother was born. Of course there is a murder, this time the victim is one of a group protesting the slaughter of whales. Reyna is not centrally involved in the investigation this time, that is left to Faroese detective Hjalte Hentze while Reyna digs into his mother’s story, although the strands of the various parts of the story seem likely to come together in the third part. That third part is set up in the final scenes of this book.

I was so enthralled by the story that when I got to the end of this audiobook on my drive to work I bought and downloaded the third in the series to begin listening on the drive home.

An obvious comparison is with Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series.

I will write more when I have finished The Fire Pit, the third in the series. I’m giving this 8 out of 10.

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.