Review: Sycamore Gap by LJ Ross (@LJRoss_author)

sycamore-gapThe Official Book Blurb

The past never stays buried for long…

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan believes he has put his turbulent history behind him. Then, in the early hours of the summer solstice, the skeleton of a young woman is found inside the Roman Wall at Sycamore Gap. She has lain undiscovered for ten years and it is Ryan’s job to piece together her past.

Enquiry lines cross and merge as Ryan is forced to face his own demons and enter into a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer who seems unstoppable.

Murder and mystery are peppered with a sprinkling of romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular scenery of Hadrian’s Wall country in Northumberland.

I may have come late to this series, but now I have started, I just can’t stop. Why oh why didn’t I start reading it sooner?

In the second book in the DCI Ryan series, we join our eponymous hero some six months after the events on Holy Island which put his girlfriend Anna in mortal danger. Their relationship has grown immensely and while it may have seemed new and awkward in the first book, when we meet them again, it has become more rounded and comfortable. And while it is far from being the main focus of the novel, Ryan’s fears for Anna do form a key part of the overall plot, informing his actions and making him take a few more calculated risks than might normally be tolerated.

Where the first book was heavy in imagery of the occult and paganism, Sycamore Gap marks a small departure from this, wandering more pointedly through the mind and actions of a true psychopath. That’s not to say that the book is completely removed from the first story, that the mysterious ‘Circle’ is completely forgotten, there are clear and obvious links to the original story littered throughout, the presence and influence still being felt, but the killer in this story is acting more to satisfy the perverse thrill of the kill. The opening is as tense as the first book, watching as a young girl is murdered. From here on in, as her body is discovered some many years later, the story begins to build, the tension increasing with every turn of the page. As another body is discovered, and as it becomes clear that these two women may not be the killers only victims, you are taken on a real journey, Ryan, Philips, McKenzie and the team trying hard to find out who has managed to kill without detection for some ten years.

I loved the development of character in this book. We learn so much more about Ryan, about the killer he caught a little over a year ago, The Hacker, a merciless man whose actions changed Ryan’s life forever. The story seems to humanise the Detective who otherwise still seems aloof and abrupt. There is more evidence of Ryan’s overwhelming empathy for the family of the victims, but also his uncompromising nature when it comes to the chase. He acts instinctively, he loves without compromise, even though this still takes him by surprise. He is a man you can absolutely root for, more so here than ever before. He has a reserved, upper-middle class humour, very dry, but when partnered with Frank Phillips, it just seems to work.

As for Phillips – well I think I’m starting to love that old DS. He is the exact opposite of Ryan but together they just work. The way he looks out for the younger DCI, the respect he has for him, is brilliant to watch in action, and his relationship with DI MacKenzie, shouldn’t work and yet it just does. LJ Ross has created such an enjoyable character that I want to read on as much to see what Frank will do as I do Ryan. And I know this is going to sound a little weird, but I really love The Hacker too. He is a serial killer as disturbed as they come and yet so clinical and intelligent. He is the perfect antagonist for Ryan, knows how to push his buttons, and there is a sense of him having his own agenda, one which he has yet to fulfil. The more you learn of him, of his links to Ryan’s current case, the more dangerous and intriguing he seems. I loved it. I mean who doesn’t love a damned good psychopath?

Once again, the murders are brutal while not overly gratuitous. There is clear evil in terms of the killers actions, but it is not represented as madness. In terms of suspects Ross creates enough diversion and misdirection that you truly believe it could be one of a number of people. My only warning is to any one who listens to the audio book. I did, and the way in which certain characters were read made it fairly clear who had done what. Had I been reading it I don’t believe I would have guessed so readily as Ross was deft in creating many possibilities, but it is always one of those risks when creating a book rich in regional accents. Unless you change accents of a character mid text, which would be irritating and feel a little like a cheat, then it can be too easy to understand the path of the story.

It didn’t make me enjoy the book any less. I loved the plot, the setting, as beautifully depicted as it was in the first book, the pacing is pitch perfect, and the characters are superb. When I read the final few chapters, despite all I thought I knew, I was still second guessing myself and the tension at the end was such that I felt like my heart was in my mouth. The number of characters put in true peril throughout… Well, it’s just plain mean Ms Ross.

As I said before, I love this series and I have raced through the first three books so quickly – my review of Heavenfield will follow very shortly – that I need to pace myself for books four and five. It is a strange feeling. I want to read on. I want to know what happens. But I am oh so scared of reaching the end too. They’re really that good.

5 big fat psychotic stars from me.


Sycamore Gap is available to purchase from the links below. The other 4 books in the series can be purchased from Amazon UK here.

Amazon UK

The other books in the DCI Ryan series are

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