Finally, time to catch up with writing some reviews of some of the books I have managed to get through while work has been bonkers. I thought I would start with one of the books I read at the beginning of the year and one of the releases in 2014 I was also most looking forward to, Jawbone Lake by Ray Robinson. Having been a huge fan of Forgetting Zoe I was looking forward to entering another possibly rather dark world of Robinson’s creation, even more so as I knew a lot of it was set in the Peak District which is my home turf and where I spent more of last year than I did at my new adoptive home in Liverpool.
Joe Arms receives a call over New Year and learns that his father, CJ, has been in some kind of accident. On leaving London and returning to the Ravenstor in the Peak District he finds that his father somehow lost control driving and veered off a bridge into the frozen lake nicknamed ‘Jawbone Lake’. Unbeknownst to Joe, but not to the reader, local girl Rabbit witnessed the incident on a stroll and saw not only that it wasn’t an accident but indeed that there was a man there who has seen her. Here the strands spilt very cleverly as we follow Joe as he discovers more about his father’s past as things come to light after his death and also follow Rabbit as she copes with and tries to forget everything she has seen.
The term ‘literary thriller’ seems to be a fairly new one and is one which has been used by those who have read Jawbone Lake and I am about to join them. For the first hundred or so pages, clichéd as I know this will sound, I simply could not stop reading the book (I was on a train to London and the two hours flew by) as I was completely hooked by both the prose and the mystery at the books heart. I found the relationship between Joe and CJ, which becomes established by small glimpses into the past really interesting to watch unravel. It was the same with Rabbits situation, which I don’t want to give too much away of, with her aunt and after a dark time in her recent past plus all she has to deal with. They are also interesting lead characters with interesting ticks and quirks, for example Joe with his desertion of the north and Rabbit with her obsession with numbers as a coping mechanism.
He had become The Man Who Stared Out of Windows, a bored, thirty-five-year-old software designer, watching doughy faced office workers making their way between the tall buildings outside, envisaging what their lives were like, wondering if theirs could possibly be as thankless as his.
To make this as fair a review as possible I do have to admit that I did have one issue with the book, not to the point of it being ruined or not liking it, yet it is one that probably wouldn’t bother many of you it’s just something I don’t like as a subject in books. Without giving any spoilers away I will say that I have an issue with any books, thrillers or otherwise, that go into any of these elements (so which this one does you will have to read and find out, clever eh?) gangsters, hit men, drug dealing, money laundering or business fraud. They simply don’t do anything for me and illicit a big groan before I invariably put the book down.
In all fairness when one or two of any of these possible outcomes (see, still not giving anything away) came up I did feel slightly disappointed yet to Ray’s credit I carried on in ground that would normally completely turn me off. This was because of a) his writing and b) the world he had created in the Peak District which for me was where the heart of the story lay, and where my interest as a reader was focused because they were bloody marvellous.
He went over to the window and watched the snow fleck the valley. In the distance, the white peak of High Tor looked vivid in the fading light. Snow lay heavy across the rectangles of higgledy-piggledy rooftops descending into the valley below. Cars progressed beneath the orange stars of street lights, familiar constellations snaking between the mass of hill, tor, fell.
Being from that area I am sure that knowing the area makes me bond with a book all the more yet (as when I read Edward Hogan’s wonderful The Hunger Trace) Robinson really captures the atmosphere of the Peak District which is at once incredibly beautiful and also dangerous and ominous. This ripples through the book and often informs the mood over the characters even if they don’t know it. I loved all this. There is a modern gothic nature to all of this, along with an earthy element that works wonders for me and I think Robinson is brilliant at. I also loved tales of the uninhabited quarries and underwater villages (both real, both part of the landscapes history and folk lore) that he picked up on. More than that I loved the life of the people. I could have read endless pages with Rabbit at work in the ice-cream factory and trips ‘down t’pub’. There was something so real about it all that it chimed with me.
Jawbone Lake nicely picks up on the term ‘it’s grim up north’ (or ‘oop north’ as we Derbyshire folk might say) and delivers a deliciously dark literary thriller overall. Personally I could have done without the trips to Spain and to Hastings as it is in Derbyshire where the magic of the prose, characters and atmosphere really meet. It has reminded me that I really need to get to Robinson’s back list of books while I await whatever he comes up with next.