16/08/2008

Rocken Edge (by Wendy K Harris)

I started reading books by Wendy K Harris just over a year ago with 'Blue Slipper Bay', the second in her Undercliff series set on the Isle of Wight. I enjoyed it thoroughly, although it was a little confusing in places, having not read the first one. A couple of months ago I was given, and read the first in the series, 'The Sorrow of Sisters', and was totally captivated.

I was even more pleased when Wendy Harris herself commented on one of the reviews I wrote, and offered to send me the third in the series as soon as it was published - and was delighted when 'Rocken Edge' arrived, shortly before we returned to Cyprus from the UK, after a busy few weeks.

It was only this week when I finally sat down to read it, and was instantly hooked. The novel opens with Clare, a young teenage mother, tired and hungry, arriving with a heavy backpack, looking for Rose. The journey is further than she thinks, and she is almost collapsing with exhaustion by the time she finds the caravans. It's fairly clear she's suffering from mastitis, too, so not surprising that disaster strikes...

Meanwhile the elderly Fran, a sheep farmer in a low-key kind of way, finds something very surprising in her stable. She is unsure what to do at first, but gradually her emotions take over, and her life changes in unexpected, but mostly beneficial ways. She learns a great deal about herself over the next few days, including an unexpected ability to tell lies to her closest friends.

Then there's Rachel, who owns a café, and has been planning - with her partner Sandro - a big change: converting to an Italian restaurant in the evenings, starting on Valentine's Day. The new menus are printed, and people are already booking up for meals... but Sandro has vanished. Rachel is broken-hearted, and also very worried about what to do.

Oh, and there's Father Ryan, a most unpleasant Catholic priest in Ireland. He had sent Clare to the UK to give birth in his cousin's convent, and then to have her baby adopted. But something went wrong, and he decides to investigate.

These threads and others are skilfully interwoven in this sometimes tense but very enjoyable novel. Other characters from previous books are also mentioned, giving a sense of continuity and the satisfaction of knowing what has been happening to them. The writing is good, the conversations realistic, and the people all warm and well-rounded; well, other than Father Ryan, who is a most unpleasant piece of work. He is almost caricatured in his nastiness, although, sadly, perhaps even he is realistic.

There's a fair bit of introspection in the novel, as people ponder their hurts and past problems. I don't mind that, although it might seem a bit long-winded to those who prefer crisper action.

There's also a bit of discussion about the meaning of life, and global consciousness, and perhaps a tinge more New Age than I'm comfortable with. But Clare, a devout (if confused) Catholic is respected for her views, and there's a thoroughly likeable and helpful priest who appears towards the end of the book, so it's certainly not anti-Christian as such.

As with the other books, there are some thought-provoking passages, some parts which are moving, and the power of friendship is an ongoing theme. There are also some moral issues to ponder: is abortion always wrong? How far can people be trusted? When is it better to skirt around legalities rather than calling the police?

All in all, I thought this an excellent book, and am very grateful to the author for sending it to me. Highly recommended. I think it would stand alone, although in my opinion it's best to have read the first two in the series before this one.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 16th August 2008

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