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The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

 Source: Free review copy received from the publisher

Five words from the blurb: gothic, family, saga, ghosts, home

The Barrowfields is a strange mix of two different books. It begins and ends as a deliciously spooky Gothic tale, but has an ordinary story about a boy attending college in the middle. The entire thing was beautifully written, but I thought it didn’t quite work as a whole.

The book begins in North Carolina, with a family moving into a mansion in which disturbing events happened to the previous occupants. I loved the creepy atmosphere and thought it was a fantastic start to an original story.

About a third of the way in, the story abruptly changed to one of a boy heading off to college for the first time. Again, the writing felt very accomplished. It reminded me of the greats in American literary fiction, like Jeffrey Eugenides or Michael Chabon. The characters were all beautifully developed and I felt a real connection to them. It perfectly captured the mixture of emotions felt by someone leaving home for the first time – the apprehension and loneliness were described more vividly than anything I’ve read before.

Unfortunately, the fantastic characterisation was then ruined by the reintroduction of weirdness. It jarred badly after so many chapters of realism. On its own, the ending would have been good; but after reading such a touching centre section about young love I found the ghostly horses ridiculous.

At last I began to resolve a shape, almost out of the corner of my eye. A lone horse, white with a white mane and rutilant eyes, skeletal and specterlike, was revealed inch by subtle inch from the parting gloom. It stood alone before us, lambent in the waking light of the nascent horned moon.

Phillip Lewis is clearly a talented writer and, if he sticks to just one genre, I’m sure his next novel will be outstanding. The bizarre nature of The Barrowfields will ensure I remember it for a long time to come. I just wish it was for all the right reasons.

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Categories
2017 Crime

Blue Light Yokohama (Inspector Iwata #1) by Nicolás Obregón

 Source: Free review copy received from NetGalley

Five words from the blurb: Tokyo, murder, cult, suicide, investigation

I accepted a review request from NetGalley to read Blue Light Yokohama because I am a big fan of Japanese crime novels and this sounded like an interesting take on the genre. I’m pleased that I read it, as it had a fantastic ending, but I wish that the central section had been condensed, as the plot meandered a bit too much.

Blue Light Yokohama is a police procedural which begins with Inspector Iwata transferring to the Tokyo homicide squad. Private investigator sydney is assigned to investigate the murder of a family of four; a disturbing crime with many ritualistic elements. The previous investigating officer committed suicide, so Inspector Iwata also has to deal with the problems caused by this.

Blue Light Yokohama has all the elements of a fantastic Japanese crime novel, but it tended to over-explain things – especially in the beginning. This could be a big positive if you are unfamiliar with Japanese culture, but I found it a bit patronising.

I also found the number of characters difficult to keep track of. Many of them were so similar that I kept mixing them up in my head. This problem was compounded by the number of side stories introduced. It could be said that these added to the difficulty of the “whodunnit” element, but I found there were so many I couldn’t possibly deduce why the crime was committed.

These complaints should only put off those who like fast-paced crime thrillers. The writing in this book was of a high standard and so will appeal to those looking for a slow-burner. The atmosphere was also beautifully described – if you can ever describe the Tokyo crime scene in that way!

The Tokyo cityscape stretched out below him, cities within cities, angles incalculable. Thirty-five million existences crammed into circadian rhythms of concrete and cables. Immense infrastructure, never-ending networks – all of it delicate as hummingbird heartbeats.

The book was based upon a real case and was well researched. Its reflection of real events made the story all the more chilling and I was impressed by the amount of information about police investigations that was included.

Overall, Blue Light Yokohama was a good, if slightly too long, crime novel and I look forward to seeing how Inspector Iwata’s character develops through the coming series.

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