Headline | 2017 (23 March) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire has been despatched to a small island off the coast of Ireland, ominously named Bone Island. A couple has gone missing – the island’s doctor Fiona and her partner, naturalist Matt. They lived in the lighthouse but it stands empty, curiously locked on the inside, and there are traces of blood. Foul play is considered likely. The island’s small community is struggling to survive. It’s friendly enough but suspicious of outsiders, especially those asking questions, and Paula finds herself becoming increasingly anxious. And then the storm comes in, the ferries are cancelled, and Paula is trapped.
Paula has every reason to remember Bone Island. It was one of the last places she holidayed as a child when her family was complete. That wasn’t long before Paula’s mother Margaret disappeared, one of the many who vanished during the Troubles of Northern Ireland. Paula will never stop searching for her, piecing together what little evidence she can uncover. But there are more immediate crises facing Paula at home these days. This is not a good time to be trapped on this island, away from her little daughter, and that’s even before she learns the true danger of the island that holds her.
Blood Tide is the fifth novel in Claire McGowan’s Paula Maguire series. Paula has some significant issues in her life, some of which hark back to Ireland’s recent violent past but by no means all, and these thread their way through the novels. But if Blood Tide is the first you’ve read, you’ll soon catch up – these stories develop very slowly. The Bone Island mystery is completely stand alone.
I’ve read all but two of this series and I always look forward to them. I like Paula. Undoubtedly a magnet for intrigue and suffering, she has so much to contend with. Because of her missing mother, Paula is particularly suited to missing persons’ police work. She is driven to find people. She knows better than anyone how such a case can affect loved ones. Other people might be content to dismiss Fiona and Matt as people lost at sea, but that’s not good enough for Paula. She has to know one way or the other but she needs to see for herself in order to believe it. She never gives up.
There are occasions in Blood Tide when Paula is painfully reminded that she isn’t infallible, that she can’t always help, and she finds that hard to live with. I found these moments uncomfortable to read – in a good way. There are elements of this novel that remind me of so-called cosy crime (with the small claustrophobic island, the tiny community hiding a killer in its midst, the storm battering its cliffs and lighthouse), but there are other aspects to it that most certainly aren’t cosy. The sea and the island it batters are not safe and some of the crimes committed here, or incidents that have happened, are appalling.
I enjoyed the Bone Island mystery. It’s atmospheric, moody and sinister. I must admit, though, that it was rather guessable, while the disappearance of Paula’s mother, as well as Paula’s complicated (to say the least) private life, are developing painfully slowly. They’re also throwing up some coincidences that aren’t easily believable, not least the presence of a certain Guy Brooking on the island. But Blood Tide almost has the air of horror about it and I revelled in that aspect of it. We meet some interesting characters on this island, ranging from the deeply menacing to the frightened. And scattered throughout, we have the memories, now shadowed by menace and foreboding, of our lost Fiona as she tells us about her time settling into island life and her relationship with Matt, whom she first met when he saved her life at sea. These are people we want to be found. Nobody will try harder than Paula.