Review Recap: Holy Island by LJ Ross

Tomorrow marks the 5th anniversary of the e-book release of Sycamore Gap by LJ Ross. Now as huge fans of the author, we couldn’t let this momentous occasion go unmarked and so, to celebrate, we’ve decided to take a look back across all of the books that make up the terrific DCI Ryan series, starting today with the book that started our bookish love affair, Holy Island. For those of you who have been stuck in a remote island hideaway for the past five years with no access to Kindles, here’s what the book is all about:

Source: Amazon

About the Book

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.

Murder and mystery are peppered with a sprinkling of romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set on the spectacular Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, cut off from the English mainland by a tidal causeway.

My Thoughts

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 straightforward 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 humorous 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, you’ll be desperate to dip into the next books in the series. I was, and now I am well and truly hooked.

Mandie’s Thoughts

After recently reading the first two books in the new series by LJ Ross I decided to go back to the beginning of the DCI Ryan series and remind myself what it was that made me fall in love with the books 3 ½ years ago. I came across the series by accident in so much as every time I turned my Kindle on there was an advert for them. As I was looking for something to read on my holidays, I took a quick look at the blurb and with the first one being set in a place that I had visited on holiday with my son when he was small (he is now nearly 22) I thought it would be fun to download the 3 books that were available at the time and I haven’t looked back since.

The setting for this book is absolutely brilliant and if you haven’t been to Holy Island yet then you really should. Both the Priory and the Castle are stunning and the sense of being shut off from the rest of the world is great when the causeway is closed. It’s history really does lend itself well to the underlying sense of the occult that threads its way through the book.  Holy Island isn’t a big place so there is a real sense of community there and I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I could quite easily picture a lot of the places that feature throughout the book.

DCI Ryan is actually hiding out on the island on an enforced break when the body of a local girl is found in the priory, but it gives him the excuse and the motivation to get his life back on track. To some he seems a bit stand offish and he certainly has little time in the beginning for Anna, a former Islander, who has been tasked with giving her perspective on the possible links to paganism. As you delve further into the story however you get to see behind the understandably brooding mask is a man who has the full support of his team and at times a flash of a real sense of humour. He is very loyal to those close to him and will often feel responsible for them, even when their actions are their undoing. This responsibility often manifests itself in his nightmares, which until now have kept him distant from any lasting relationships. He has certainly met his match in Anna as even when she is possibly in danger, she refuses to be bullied by him. It is fun watching their closeness develop as she manages to get under his defences.

Holy Island is a brilliant start to the series and as the author has just released book 15, if you are about to start on the journey of Ryan and co you certainly have plenty to look forward to…. As for me, I am going to continue my journey of rediscovery and head off to book 2.

About the Author

LJ Ross is an international bestselling author, best known for creating atmospheric mystery and thriller novels, including the DCI Ryan series of Northumbrian murder mysteries which have sold over four million copies worldwide.

Her debut, Holy Island, was released in January 2015 and reached number one in the Amazon UK and Australian charts. Since then, she has released a further sixteen novels, all of which have been top three global bestsellers and fourteen of which have been UK #1 bestsellers. Louise has garnered an army of loyal readers through her storytelling and, thanks to them, several of her books reached the coveted #1 spot whilst only available to pre-order ahead of release. Her eleventh novel, The Infirmary, is a prequel story and is also available as a major Audible Originals audio-drama starring Tom Bateman, Kevin Whately, Bertie Carvel, Hermione Norris and Alun Armstrong.

Louise was born in Northumberland, England. She studied undergraduate and postgraduate Law at King’s College, University of London and then abroad in Paris and Florence. She spent much of her working life in London, where she was a lawyer for a number of years until taking the decision to change career and pursue her dream to write. Now, she writes full-time and lives with her husband and son in Northumberland, where she enjoys reading all manner of books, travelling and spending time with family and friends.

Louise is a keen philanthropist, and is pleased to have supported numerous non-profit programmes in addition to founding several of her own, including the Lindisfarne Reading Challenge and the Lindisfarne Prize for Debut Crime Fiction.

Author Links: Twitter | Website | Facebook

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