Monday, September 9, 2013

Death on Lindisfarne by Fay Sampson

I was first introduced to Aidan and his wife Jenny and their daughter Melangell in Fay Sampson's first book in the Aidan mysteries, called The Hunted Hare.  At that time Jenny was terminally ill and they didn't know how long she would be alive.

When Death on Lindisfarne takes place, Jenny has passed away some months ago and Aidan is taking his daughter Melangell on a rather unusual vacation. They will be attending a conference on an the island of Lindisfarne to learn about the historical figures who played prominently in the building of the monastery.  Melangell is not your typical 8 year old, as she seems to know as much about the subject as Lucy, the lecturer (former police officer turned Methodist minister).

As the characters slowly assemble for the conference, I felt as though I was reading an Agatha Christie book. Sampson did a great job of painting a picture of each person as they arrived.  There was the troubled teen that accompanied Lucy to the conference.  A couple that had been foster parents. Two women travelling together (never quite clear how they were connected whether as friends or something more), and some others as well.

As the characters assemble for the lectures, some participants are almost adversarial setting a rather tense tone to the conference. Lucy has brought Rachel, a troubled teen along to the conference hoping that the change of scenery and a removal from her less than healthy ties may help Lucy forge a relationship with her to help her more fully to have a fresh start.  What neither Lucy, nor Rachel, realize is that a very dark part of her past is about to catch up with her.

Early on in the book, Rachel exhibits some concerning behavior that makes Lucy wonder if she has gotten involved again with drugs.  Before she can find out more, Rachel has disappeared and the conference attendees are in the very awkward position of being suspects in what later is determined as murder.

I found the book a very good read from a mystery/suspense standpoint. Overall, the book is "clean"; however, there were a few moral problems that I had with the book.

One somewhat confusing part is that Lucy often thinks back to a previous relationship.  If I understood correctly, it sounds like she was living with a man. In her later decision to become a minister, it seems as though there would be some embarrassment and shame in having done that. Either it's just not shown or she really felt there was nothing wrong.  That seemed a significant weak point as someone pursuing full-time ministry should strive to lead a life of moral purity.

I was a bit put off by the relationship that I felt Sampson was hinting might be lesbian.  It was never quite made clear but I was left wondering why a Christian book would include such an ambiguous set of characters.  Perhaps I was misreading their relationship but it seemed to be purposely left in mystery. Nothing definitive was offered so I could very well be reading more into it than was intended.

Drug use was part of the plot and I felt that the obligation to report such abuse was sort of swept under the rug.  And there is also the hint of an attraction between Aiden and another woman; only six months after his wife's death seems unwise in light of having such a young daughter. Surprisingly, Melangell seems to encourage the relationship--hard to believe she would be so quick to accept a potential replacement as mother. Nothing actually moved forward so I'm hoping that if this relationship resurfaces in a future book, that a bit more time will have passed in Aiden's grieving process.

Aside from those moral questions, I do believe that Sampson is a gifted writer who crafts an engaging tale in the style of Agatha Christie. The characters definitely come alive and the reader is drawn into a suspenseful mystery. Readers will also learn a great deal of fascinating history.

You can purchase a copy of Death on Lindisfarne directly from Kregel Publications or from one of the following retailers:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Death on Lindisfarne from Kregel Publications for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

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