Over Christmas Adrian and I filled the lockdown hours with board games, books, walks and TV. We fell down the rabbit hole that is Netflix, Prime and You Tube. The lure of just one more episode, or similar programme suggestions, proved too strong on many occasions and lots of late nights were had. In particular , we have discovered, or in Adrian’s case , rediscovered, Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. The series was first aired in 1987 and went through several presenters and incarnations. Prime are rerunning the shows and many of the cases have updates and most of the ‘Unsolved mysteries’ are now solved. The attraction to many of us of a mystery fuels the continual growth of the crime and mystery genre of writing. So there’s no better way to fling open the Library Door on a new year and the first review, than with a mystery. Its The Dark Room by Sam Blake, published by Corvus books (www.atlantic-books.co.uk) on the 7th January.
The story is based around an old house in West Cork, called Hare’s Landing. Two women travel there. One is Rachel Lambert, a film location manager, and the other is Caroline Kelly, a crime reporter, based in New York. Both women have familial ties to Ireland but are visiting hare’s landing for other reasons. Caroline has come back to Ireland to get some thinking space after being threatened with a lawsuit in the US. Hare’s Landing seems like the ideal retreat. Rachel has travelled to Hare’s Landing, following the trail of a homeless man’s history. He has died in London. At the same time, her investigative journalist boyfriend has been knocked off his bike and their narrowboat home, ransacked. While staying at the hotel, they find out about a mysterious death and a 30-year- old missing persons case, which have happened there. Soon it becomes apparent that Rachel’s investigation into the homeless man’s past and the mysteries at Hare’s Landing are intertwined. Their search for the truth may have put them in danger.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The two main characters were sympathetic and appealing. It was easy to imagine how the two of them would have struck up a friendship as the only two guests at the old house.
Being a veterinary nurse and animal lover, Its always good to have a dog in the mix too and Jasper, the retired police dog was a necessary device here.
There was a good cast of locals (or suspects!) too. Something you’d find in most rural areas, which helped to build the backdrop of that Irish small town feel of everyone knowing everyone else’s business or wanting to! This was handled well without recourse to diddly-I, as one would expect from an Irish author. From her introduction, I kept thinking that Mrs Travers, the hotel manager, reminded me of Mrs Danvers from Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ and at some point Caroline and Rachel make that comment too so it was nice to see it referenced.
This the fifth book of Irish author,Sam Blake (www.samblakebooks.com) , the others all feature her female Garda detective Cat Connolly, Little Bones (2016), In Deep Water (2017), No Turning Back (2018) and Keep Your Eyes On Me (2020). Sam Blake is the pseudonym of Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, the founder of the website writing.ie and The Inkwell Group, a publishing consultancy. Originally from St. Albans in Hertfordshire, she started writing after her husband, a retired Garda, set sail across the Atlantic for 8 weeks, and she had an idea for a book. When not writing she runs Murder One, Ireland’s leading crime writing festival (we need an Invite) and hosts a podcast called Behind The Bestseller (must give it a whirl) , she lives with her husband and kids, three cats, and an ant farm, down the road from us here in Co. Wicklow.
The suggestions of paranormal events only added to the gothic feel of Hare’s Landing. I loved the hints at secrets, the finding of clues like letters and photos and slow realisation the past events were very much linked to current ones, building tension. Loved the climatic ending too. If I had any quibble it would be to wonder how the title relates to the story? It does pique your curiosity though..
So, a five star recommendation from us here at the Library Door for a super lockdown read. Thrills without the gore, a classic mystery, and two likeable amateur sleuths. We suggest you Hare off to buy it (within Covid guidelines), click and collect a copy at your local bookshop or download a copy now!
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought, visit their sites listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.