Sunday, May 11, 2014

Review: Beneath the Abbey Wall by A.D. Scott

Beneath the Abbey Wall (Joanne Ross, Book #3)
by A.D. Scott
Release Date: November 13th, 2012
2012 Atria Books
Softcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6577-2
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6578-9 (ebook)
ASIN: B007EE5622
Genre: Fiction / Murder
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

In a small Scottish town, the local newspaper staff doesn't see much excitement. But that all changes when their no-nonsense office manager Mrs. Smart is found murdered one dreary autumn night. For the staff of the "Highland Gazette," the investigation becomes personal when the deputy editor, is accused of the crime.

It's the late 1950s, the decade of rock n' roll and television, and change is coming, but slowly. It's up to budding reporter Joanne Ross to step into Mrs. Smart's shoes and keep the newspaper office running, all while raising two girls alone. But newcomer Neil Stewart proves a major distraction for Joanne.

And what does the tragic tale of children stolen from the Travelling people more than thirty years previously have to do with this murder? In a mystery with twists and turns and no clear-cut solution, the secrets of the past must be unravelled before justice can be found.

My Thoughts
Beneath the Abbey Wall is the third book in the Joanne Ross series, and as I haven't yet read the other two, I can't really compare them at all.  However, I did enjoy this one, but more for the character development rather than the actual mystery which I found rather easy to solve despite the author's attempts at misdirection.

What I did like in this novel is the setting: it contained all of the usual elements that I adore such as the rain, the gothic atmosphere, the Scottish tight-knit community where secrets just abound, the time period where things were very turbulent and constantly changing, and the secrets, secrets, secrets.  I like the appeal of having my characters walk down rainy streets at night, through historical areas where they can be tight and narrow, naturally walking pas a church or cemetery, and the lights are dim or almost non-existent.  Nothing like it to curl the toes or keep the heart pounding.  It's too bad the actual story line didn't take advantage of the setting as the mystery was rather ho-hum and easily solved.

My biggest problem lies with the murdered woman, Mrs. Smart, around whom the story centers.  To be honest, I never felt a shred of sympathy or empathy towards this woman as I never really felt like I got to know anything about her real personality other than she "was a good woman'.  Even learning her story when she was young didn't really endear me to her and my sympathy was rather non-emotional.  It's not that I didn't feel compassion towards her situation, it's just that I couldn't muster up the compassion towards the situation and put it on Mrs. Smart's shoulders and feel compassion for her.  And that's why I couldn't understand McAllister's downturn in his personal life where he let himself go and didn't take care of himself because Mrs. Smart's death affected him so much; I just couldn't make the connection as I just didn't feel it between them.  I did like Joanne's character and the struggles she had with her relationship with the newcomer Neil.  It is the 1950s after all, and a young mother who is not divorced should not be seen around town with another man without destruction to her personal reputation. I really liked the emphasis that the author puts on women's issues and their lack of rights and freedoms during this time period, and how it highlights their plight when they are married to abusive men or when things go badly wrong.  I found Joanne's struggles to be quite interesting, even though I did want to strangle her at times.  Some of this was me though, as an independent women of the new century, it is kind of hard to understand what women struggled with during this time period.  I found Joanne to be the most sympathetic character of the lots and identified with her rather strongly.

Beneath the Abbey Wall is one of those books that I enjoyed for the characters themselves, but found myself turning the pages or becoming bored at times as I was waiting for the mystery to pick up and do something.  I think there is a fine line between character development and plot development, and the author spent too much time on the character side, and while somewhat interesting, lost focus on the mystery aspect to this novel.  I found the descriptions of the setting to be very interesting, loved the atmosphere of this novel, really enjoyed the making of newspapers in the 1950s, but felt the mystery was lacking.  The Low Road has an expected publication date of September 2014, and despite some of the flaws concerning the mystery in Beneath the Abbey Wall, it was interesting enough that I will pick up the new entry to this series when it is published as I am curious enough to find out what is going on with the characters.