The Official Book Blurb
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.
Now if there is one sure thing that can be said about me, at least in the past couple of years, it is that I read a lot of crime fiction. I love crime fiction and mysteries in fact. I love books that can twist my understanding, challenge my mind and maybe throw in a few surprises. But if there is one thing I like more than a straight forward crime fiction novel, it’s one with a hint of the supernatural, occult or the macabre. To that end, Holy Island by LJ Ross well and truly hit the spot.
As the only police officer on Lindisfarne, aka Holy Island, DCI Ryan is summoned to the scene of a suspicious death. a young girl found strangled and left naked in the ruins of the old Priory. Now Ryan is on sick leave following a very harrowing incident a few months before in which he was attacked by a vicious serial killer, and his boss is reluctant to allow him to investigate. When he finally succumbs to Ryan’s pressure, it is the start of will be a challenging, and in some respects, life changing investigation for many of the Islands residents and also some of Ryan’s own team.
Now places like Lindisfarne, with ancient myths and legends, spooky old Priories, and a most enviable location along a stunning stretch of the north-east coast, are a mecca for people wanting to celebrate the summer and winter solstice, and it is the latter, the death occurring just a few days before Christmas, which acts as a backdrop to this novel. Drawing on a good amount of local history and blending with a hint of the occult, LJ Ross concocts a thrilling and often chilling tale, in which the murders may be few but are delightfully gruesome. If indeed delightful is the right word…
The victims are varied, the methods of dispatch seemingly random and diverse and yet all seem to link back to pagan symbolism. I love this about the book. It adds a touch of ‘madness’ and a unique feeling to what might otherwise have seemed a straightforward domestic situation. The murders in themselves are not necessarily describe in any grotesque detail, but they do not need to be. From the very first chapter, when we are guided by the weak consciousness of the first victim, I was hooked. As the body count grew, as the true sense of the darkness which infected the small island community became clear, I wanted to know more. I needed to know more. To see just how far this infection had spread.
Alongside a ripping plot line, a good book, a good mystery, needs a damn good protagonist. Love or loathe, it has to be someone you can believe in. In DCI Ryan, Ross has created just such a character. Unsure of him at first, he is overly formal and a touch officious, the more the story progressed the more you saw the humourous side of a man who is haunted every day by a very dark and recent past. Tall, dark and handsome, steely intense grey eyes – check. He has all that and the capacity to make many a reader swoon. But that’s not necessarily what I look for in a fictional detective. I want spirit, intelligence, tenacity and a bloody good sense of team. I got all that and more in Ryan, a man who seemed to have an innate empathy for victims and their families, but not so much that it stopped him doing what he needed to do.
Supported by a brilliant cast of characters, such as Frank Phillips, DI MacKenzie, DC Lowerson, an array of local residents from all ends of the spectrum from Clergy, to Doctor to Coast Guard, and with a intelligent and alert sparring partner come love interest in Anna, there really is a bit of everything for everyone in this book.
Pacing is just about perfect, ebbing and flowing just as surely as the tide that surrounds and isolates the community. Hell, even the tide and the simple fact that the island causeway can be cut off, the seas oft too perilous to navigate, adds a new level of tension to the plot. In that sense the setting, captured perfectly on the page, acts as an antagonist, making everything that little bit harder for Ryan and the team. Ross also does a good job in portraying a sense of claustrophobia within the community, the sense that everyone knows everyone and that secrets are hard to keep in a village with only one pub and no real restaurants, making the simple act of the murder of one of their own even more incomprehensible. As we near the end, the pace escalates, the sense of jeopardy so great for one of the characters that it results in heart-thumping tension.
With the book ending, if not on a cliffhanger as such, the investigation is completely resolved, then with a sense that there is still much more to come for our hero, I have been absolutely desperate to dip into the next books in the series. I only have to ask myself why I overlooked this series for so long. Oh what a fool I have been.
A twisted & ritualistic 5 stars from me.
Holy Island by LJ Ross is the first book in the DCI Ryan series and can be purchased from the links below. The other 4 books in the series can be purchased from Amazon UK here.
The other books in the DCI Ryan Series are: