Monday, March 4, 2024

The Birthday Girl by Sarah Ward - Reading Wales 2024

Title: The Birthday Girl
Author: Sarah Ward
Publication: Canelo Crime, paperback, 2023
Genre: Mystery
Setting: Wales
Description: Still recovering from an injury and a bad divorce, Malory Dawson retired from her job in London as a police detective and has taken on a temporary job as night manager of a boutique hotel on Eldey, an isolated island in Wales. Unbeknownst to Mallory, a group of guests is about to check in, including a child murderer, now grown up, with revenge on her mind. As a storm hits and Eldey is cut off from the mainland, it is up to Mallory to try to stay a step ahead of a serial killer – before it is too late.

My Impression: I really enjoyed the four books Ward wrote about Detective Constable Connie Childs and her aloof but intriguing Detective Inspector Francis Sadler, and thought Minotaur could have done more to promote the two that were published in the US. The fourth book, The Shrouded Path, had a dual timeline of 1957 and the present that was extremely well done. I was hoping for more and maybe Ward will return to these characters some time; however, recently I learned from Moira of Clothes in Books about this new series in an interview with Ms. Ward so ordered book 1 from the UK.

Part of being a crime fiction fan is appreciating complicated characters and Mallory Dawson is one of them. It takes a while to learn her backstory – attacked on the job by a criminal, still not fully recovered, dreadful ex-husband (some would say, is there any other kind), somewhat estranged from her son – and there is clearly more to learn. Mallory takes a job on an isolated island in Wales, warned in advance by the ferryman that the two previous applicants didn’t work out but the island likes her. She has a harder time adjusting to a place where the elements play an enormous part:
Mallory grimaced. She hadn’t yet settled into night working and was finding it impossible to sleep. Weather was the main issue. A cold wind blew across the bay, its gusts keeping her awake at night. She worried about the boats on the sea and the safety of the guests. Now it was promising to be what Elsa called a sticky night. A gale was coming across the Irish Sea. It would miss the island but Eldey was likely to feel the tail of the storm. Even across the noise of the kitchen, Mallory could hear the thump of the sea hitting rocks.
This is not the first island any of us have read about with a killer on the loose and Ward creates a gothic element even before the storm maroons the guests and staff – the hotel was once a convent with a deadly mystery of its own to lure tourists. There are secrets everywhere on the island, even before the first death, and a comparison to Agatha Christie is fair. Eldey Island is full of menace from the beginning and the mention a bell tower that is stoppered but still functions was a warning that it would be needed. In an afterward, Ward explains she spent her childhood in South Wales and this book was inspired by a visit to “atmospheric and slightly frightening Caldey Island,” which is home to a Cistercian Monastery and also attracts tourists like the island she invented.
The setting of this book made it perfect for Reading Wales 2024, which is hosted by Paula at Book Jotter every March. It is also my fourth book for Carol’s Cloak and Dagger Challenge. I am looking forward to more about Mallory in book 2 in the series, The Sixth Lie, which is already out.
Source: Personal copy


Mystica said...

A new author for me. Thanks for the review.

Cath said...

You don't get many crime stories set in Wales, not that I've noticed anyway, so this sounds interesting and unusual. I've just realised, after checking the author on FF, that I have actually read one of her books - In Bitter Chill, set in Derbyshire. Thought it was excellent, good writing, so I'll check The Birthday Girl out.

TracyK said...

I am also a fan of Sarah Ward's Detective Constable Connie Childs series. I will read this book sometime too, although the premise of a killer on an island isn't my favorite.

CLM said...

Tracy, I think the heroine will head to the mainland for the next case, so I will let you know what I think of book 2 (hoping my sister will bring it back from the UK when she goes).

It was hard to find the last two Connie Childs books. I am afraid her publisher did a poor job promoting them. Cath, you can probably get the ones you haven't read from your library.

Mystica, isn't it a nice feeling to know something good is waiting to be read?!