Source: Review Copy
Publication: 30th November 2017 from Trapeze
Following a traumatic incident in London, Jennifer Dorey has returned to her childhood home in Guernsey, taking a job as a reporter at the local newspaper.
After the discovery of a drowned woman on a beach, she uncovers a pattern of similar deaths that have taken place over the past fifty years.
Together with DCI Michael Gilbert, an officer on the verge of retirement, they follow a dark trail of island myths and folklore to ‘Fritz’, the illegitimate son of a Nazi soldier. His work, painstakingly executed, has so far gone undetected.
But with his identity about to be uncovered, the killer now has Jennifer in his sights.
Setting a series on a small island is an interesting choice for a writer, but Guernsey’s history is such that there’s a wealth of opportunities to mine its rich and varied situation.
It’s obvious from her writing Lara Dearman knows the island well; such is the evocative description she brings to the island and its characters.
Our protagonist is Jenny Dorey. She has recently returned to Guernsey from a journalism career in London where an investigation she was carrying out for her newspaper lead to her life being placed in danger. Now she is back home, living with her mother and working for the much sleepier Guernsey News.
Something of a loner, Jenny has one good friend, Stella, on the island. One of the reasons she originally left Guernsey stemmed back to an incident that led to her being ostracised by other children when she was a teenager and has subsequently left her a little bit afraid of the dark.
Whilst out on a routine assignment for the paper, she finds a young woman, Amanda Guille, dead on the beach. The police think it’s likely to be suicide but Jenny is not convinced. Despite being warned off the story by her somewhat irascible editor, Brian, she sets about finding more about the dead girl and soon begins to uncover a startling number of suicides by young women on the island, dating back several decades. Has she uncovered a pattern and if so, what is driving these young women to take their own lives, if indeed that is what happened?
Convinced that she is on the trail of something significant, she takes her research to DCI Michael Gilbert, a policeman on the verge of retirement who already feels he is being superseded by the younger cops on the island. Michael, who had some early misgiving about Amanda’s death, thinks Jenny may well be onto something and they put their heads together to work on the cases.
Lara Dearman has built a strong and convincing picture of life on Guernsey, the characters and the everyday incidents. Drawing on the history and folklore of Guernsey, she has mined a rich seam from the past and teamed it with a vivid and authentic picture of present day island life and politics.
Written in three voices, those of Jenny, Michael and the unidentified killer, the timeline switches between the past and the present, but is always easy to follow.
Jenny is a character that the reader can empathise with and urge on to succeed. There is enough in her background and early life, as well as her more recent London history; to give her a past that can be further explored in future books. As the reader gets drawn further into Jenny’s investigations, we meet an interesting cast of characters, any one of whom could easily be implicated in the disturbing events that Jenny has uncovered.
As the denouement draws close, the novel delivers a vivid and gripping climax that satisfies and resolves the mystery.
I really enjoyed this debut novel and look forward to reading more in the series.
About Lara Dearman
Lara was born and raised on the beautiful Channel Island of Guernsey. She moved to the UK to study International Relations and French at the University of Sussex, after which she endured a brief career in finance before giving it up to be a stay at home mum to her three children. A short course in Creative Writing at Richmond Adult Community College led to Lara studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at St Mary’s University, London. She graduated in 2016 with a distinction. Having moved from Guernsey to Brighton to London to Paris to Singapore and back to London over the last fifteen years, she has now settled in Westchester, New York, with her family. The Devil’s Claw is her first novel and combines her love of Guernsey, myths and folklore with her obsession with crime fiction and serial killers…
You can follow Lara on @laradearman