Today it is my pleasure to share a publication day review of The Hermitage by LJ Ross, the 9th DCI Ryan mystery. Happy publication day Louise, and a massive thank you from me for the advance review copy. I love these books, so can never leave them long before tucking in. This one waited only half a day and I devoured it. Here is what it’s all about.
About the Book
He thought he was invincible, but he was wrong…
When an old man is found dead inside the ancient hermitage at Warkworth Castle, Northumbria CID are called in to investigate. With no apparent motive, it’s their job to unravel why he was murdered – and this time they’re forced to do it without their star detective…
DCI Ryan is thousands of miles away. He’s tracked a killer across Europe and has sworn not to return until he has his man in custody. Nathan Armstrong is a dangerous psychopath but there’s just one problem – he’s also an international celebrity; a world-famous thriller writer with money and connections.
Ryan is a stranger in a foreign land, but he knows one thing – he’ll never give up.
Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular landscapes of Northumberland and Tuscany.
Now, it is often the case that even with long running series such as this one, you can pick up a book in isolation and still enjoy every last page. The same is very much true of The Hermitage, which is a story in its own right and can be enjoyed as such, but you will get so much more from the book if you have read the first eight, especially Dark Skies. If you haven’t read them and are willing to take a gamble mid series, then read on. If you have then you will know just how significant Nathan Armstrong is and I don’t need to say any more.
This is a story which kind of sits in two parts, or at the very least two investigations. One is based on Northumberland where the boatman who works at Warkworth Castle, ferrying tourists over to the eponymous Hermitage is found murdered. The scene is a mess, animals having made the most of an unexpected feast, and it falls to DI Denise MacKenzie and DS Frank Phillips to find out just who would want to kill the old man and why he has such a mysteriously empty past. Why Denise and Frank? Well, because Ryan and Anna have flown to Florence, hot on the heals of Nathan Armstrong, a man the whole team knows has already evaded justice once and who is likely to kill again. Ryan is determined to bring an end to his games once and for all.
What I love about these books is the way in which LJ Ross brings the environment to life. Even though we don’t spend as much time in the north east as we would typically, you are still acutely aware of the landscape, of its richness and the stark contrast of the murders against such a beautifully painted backdrop. This applies equally to the part of the story, the larger part, set in Florence. Although not a natural setting for Anna, it is somewhere Ryan knows well and you really get that sense of the familiar in the way he moves around the city, while still portraying a clear picture of where we are for the reader. You learn a little more of the extent of Ryan’s past in this book too, something which takes his friends by surprise, even though they know of his personal situation. Once again the author has done a brilliant job of contrasting the opulence which surrounds Ryan with the very down to earth, determined and ultimately focused man we know and love.
With the action moving to Italy, it gives the opportunity to introduce some new, and very diverse, characters to the story. I really liked the character of Magda, the Ryan’s housekeeper, even if she appeared only fleetingly in a few scenes. She is clearly a woman with a story to tell, and a fierce sense of loyalty and understanding which you cannot help but respect. Then there is Inspector Alessandro Ricci, who is the man tasked with assisting, or rather humouring, Ryan and investigating the disappearance of a local man who may well have links to Armstrong. He is a character not wholly unlike Ryan, in some ways quite charming, if somewhat hampered by convention and rules, but he is portrayed in a way which will keep you wondering if, in a country known for its mafia connections and widespread corruption at the highest levels, he can really be trusted.
I loved that in this book Ryan, as a guest of the Italian police, cannot really act in any meaningful way in the investigation. He can only watch and advise from the sidelines, but still manages to worm his way in, bringing him front and centre and in the sights of Armstrong. His actions put him in jeopardy on more than one occasion, both personally and professionally, and he is right at the centre of one of the most heart stopping scenes in the book. This really is a cat and mouse chase between the two foes. Armstrong is charismatic, charming to those around him, but as cold hearted a sociopath as anyone Ryan has met, easily able to avoid conviction. Ryan knows this, knows the risks he is facing, and yet his determination to prove Armstrong guilty is unwavering. Exactly the reasons we all love him. Together with some help from Anna, Ryan begins to see exactly what has happened and how, it is simply a matter of proving it.
The two storylines are concluded in a surprising but satisfying way, but it is possibly the ending of the book which will have long-term fans practically purring with happiness. I’ll say no more but it has been a while coming, that’s for sure. I love the characters in this book, Ryan, Anna, Denise and Frank. They make up a perfect team and you want to read on as much for them as for the story itself. LJ Ross has created a truly enduring team that I think I could keep reading about forever, embedding them in stories which are as intriguing as they are exciting, with settings which become as much a living breathing part of the story as anything else. Brilliant stuff. Highly recommended.
If you would like a copy of the book for yourself, it is available now from the following links: