The Cuckoo Wood by M.Sean Coleman – An Alex Ripley Mystery

Supernatural happenings, religious mania, suspected suicide; all ingredients of a superb first Alex Ripley novel. Tense and decidedly disturbing, this is a great introduction to an investigator who does not hesitate to take any action to solve a complex mystery. The author shows great skill in using every word to create an atmosphere, and fills the senses with the physical feelings, smell and sound of a wooded area as well as a small village where drawn curtains convey so much. This book truly kept me guessing until the end, and I was pleased to be asked to read and review this book.

Samantha is drowning in a cold, dark lake. She sees an angel, The Kirkdale Angel, but it is too late, and is filled with regret that she cannot tell others. The girls are there, but are doing nothing. Emma is a police specialist, baffled and bewildered as she is called to see another young girl’s body. Despite a chilling silence from the local community, she will not accept a suicide theory for the second time, so summons her friend Dr Alex Ripley. Alex is something of a media personality, known for her books and involvement in investigating cases of faith healing scandals. She is intrigued by the reported happenings in the small enclosed village in the Lake District, and soon finds accommodation in the pub. Online investigations give her more information about a previous tragic mystery, and she spends time getting to know the village. An obsessive church involvement typifies many inhabitants, and it is only with difficulty that Alex persuades someone to talk to her.

Many mysteries come to dominate Alex’s semi official investigations, as she is shown contempt and aggression by some keen to downplay events in a tightly knit community. The tension not only builds up but is well maintained as challenges appear and people are not what they seem. This is a genuine mystery, and also manages to be mysterious. Alex is a complex character with an interesting back story, and is more than competent at putting together bits of information and using her impressive intuition. There are other well drawn characters, who do not immediately supply relevant information but are consistent in their behaviour.

This is a genuinely gripping read with lots of local colour and excitement. The atmosphere and tension are well maintained, the solution is not straightforward but is satisfactory. The creation of the community is cleverly done, and the actions of individuals interesting. It is a powerfully written, effective and engaging novel where the reader’s interest is kept up throughout. In fact it is almost a thriller that is difficult to put down, but in a clever, nonviolent way. This is a good book with an admirable investigator who is truly human. I would be really glad to read another novel featuring Alex Ripley who rejects her label of “Miracle Detective” but who is not afraid to push to the edge to discover what is truly going on in a small community.

This was an exciting book to read in an otherwise busy week, but I really enjoyed immersing myself in the story. I have read that only six minutes of reading a book can seriously reduce stress – in which case I should be very calm. Having had the decorators in this week I am about to embark on an exciting game of hunt the clothes, carefully (!) having placed them in suitcases while we cleared a bedroom. Wish me luck!