Let me begin with a summary – this is a good read, enjoyable, hardly Kafka but if you enjoy a historically set crime thriller then this is for you. Put it this way, I do enjoy that and I enjoyed this book particularly.
In this book the title “ Bloody Orkney “ is attributed to the sentiments of the service men and women who were posted during the Second World War , in their view, miles away from anywhere entertaining with the weather systems to match. It goes to explain some of the “ goings on” that are central to the theme of the book.
The actual derivation of the phrase , and the wonderful Orcadian riposte is explained in the Author’s note at the back of the book. I usually don’t read this as often it is either self congratulatory or says that the author owes it all to their ; mum//wife/husband/ children/ agent/publisher/ therapist ( delete where appropriate – Dad’s rarely get a mention have you noticed?) But in this case it is well worth a read, but not until you have read the whole book, it is worth the wait. There is a lot of useful explaining there, and some additional information about how the characters came about .
Bloody Orkney is set in World War II and follows a series of story lines around a central set of characters in an Intelligence Organisation lead by a Group Captain Bob Sutherland and his mysterious colleague Monique Dubois of MI5. But the bulk of this book is about crime not espionage . The core story is around their investigations into murder and corruption in Orkney. Along the way you will come across Soviet spies, the Black Market, Glaswegian gangsters. There are other story lines, they are interesting but in a sense diversions, and fillers they don’t quite all come together other than to expand the opportunities to develop the characters. But the story has all the key ingredients; love, sex, murder, redemption and by and large believable characters. Why one of the villains of the piece needs to be related to the hero, I don’t quite get, but that is an aside, he works as a villain and the other works as a hero. It is all good.
The story lines however are developed around a series of operations and units that were based in reality which adds to the interest , even if the author is correctly keen in his note to point out that the characters are fictional. It is interesting to see where the inspiration for the key characters came from …..but I repeat – read the Author’s note last !
Ken Lusssey writes well, the story skips along logically and engagingly and is a genuine page turner, I got through it in seven readings and some quite late nights because it was pretty gripping .
It isn’t faultless but then that isn’t due to the author . Arachnid Press is an independent publisher set up in 2020, so it is really new and I admire their ambition. My problem is that I am something of a pedant, so if I see words that are correct but not the right ones – “ stand instead of standing” and you have to search for what is actually meant then it is bit like tripping up over a root on a good walk . Life goes on , it is minor in the great scheme of things but you could do without it . There are several instances of that and the book lacks some heavy duty proof reading .Let me stress, that is true for most small independent publishers. But if you are even more pedantic than me you might find this distracting . (You might also need help …)
For me one of the tests of a good book is “ is it believable? “ There are a few ways of assessing this. One by-product of the story line is to introduce you to Orkney; the geography, the archaeology, places, people, the astonishing influx of military personnel and the military establishments they serviced. So “Is what we are told correct? Does it give a good picture of Orkney at that time ? “ Truth? I don’t know, I wasn’t around then and I’m not an Orcadian . Some of the military references though are certainly true, as is the transformation of the landscape through the barriers. Perhaps for you an odd verification but I know quite a lot about WW II military aircraft and the references there are accurate . Possibly deriving an assessment that the Orkney specific references are accurate through that is a bit like comparing apples with oranges, but the knowledge that the apples have been well researched gives you faith that the same could be true for the oranges . Only Orcadians will be able to judge .As an aside you might also enjoy researching this yourself. As an outsider I found the description of the islands engaging .
Another means of assessment is , “ are the story lines credible?” They are mainly if one or two are a bit far fetched, (did the RAF really lend Mosquitos to half blind pilots ?) but as a dramatic artifice it is acceptable and doesn’t draw down from the overall enjoyment of the book . There is also the old adage to fall back upon, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction . So why doubt the fiction ?
I did enjoy it, a really good diversion and took me to Orkney in the Second World War , I’m off to see what else Ken Lussey has written, which is really all that needs to be said from my perspective and possibly yours.
See also: New Thriller Set in Wartime Orkney