Review: Death Notes

by Gurpreet Sihat

A few years ago, my sister’s friend gifted her a collection of books – the kind with covers that looked as though they were filled with horror and supernatural mystery. My sister, who is the most avid reader I’ve ever met and who ignited the same passion in me, couldn’t bring herself to read them; it was the first (and, to my knowledge, only) time she’d ever judged a book by its cover. Instead, she put them aside and forgot all about them. Months later, I found them. The cover of one attracted me to it immediately – a ghostly woman trying to claw her way into a house. I devoured every single word and found myself growing slightly obsessed with it. So much so that I bent over backwards to get permission to adapt it into a screenplay.

The author was Sarah Rayne. The book was The Silence.

Sadly, my sister’s friend, has passed away, but she was the catalyst to something bigger and since then, I’ve read several of Rayne’s works. We’ve even fast become friends. When she posted me a copy of her latest novel, I rushed to finish the series I had been reading so I could finally devour every word of the first in the Phineas Fox series and boy was it worth the wait.

Death Notes is possibly my favourite of Rayne’s works to date.

The narrative switches between the perspectives of five main characters: the music researcher, Phineas Fox; a recently widowed Beatrice Drury, still struggling to understand the death of her husband and daughter; a stranger suffering from amnesia; Jessica Cullen, a young teenager living with her God-fearing family; and the journal entries of Mortimer Quince who died decades before. Each story is complexly woven together; linked by the story of Roman Volf, a Russian violinist who was hanged for the murder of Tsar Alexander II in the 1880s.

As usual, her writing is beautifully sophisticated yet still easy to understand. The book took me two sittings to finish, but if it hadn’t been for the fact that my train had reached its destination, I would have done it in one. Rayne skillfully switched between writing styles, perspectives, and medium.

In my opinion, it started quite slowly, with Fox unable to decide whether he wanted to take the latest research job or not, but it soon became one of the few page turners I’ve read this year. In fact, every chapter had me yelling ‘Oh my God!’  or ‘No way!’ at the top of my lungs and scaring the people around me.

Despite it not being as ‘spooky’ as her Nell West and Michael Flint series, Death Notes does mystery and intrigue better than any of Rayne’s other novels. Every page had me guessing and whenever I thought I had solved the mystery, yet another conundrum was thrown into the web that Rayne had weaved. By the end, I was convinced that there wasn’t any way she could answer all the questions and solve all the mysteries by the last few pages, but she proved me wrong.

If there was one thing I wanted more of, it was the story between Jessica’s mother, Catriona, and her uncle, Tormod. What was going on there?

The Death Notes characters – from Beatrice to the trampy amnesiac, Jessica to Feofil Markov – were brilliantly written, but I’m looking forward to finding out more about Phineas Fox in the next book. There was little about him in this instalment which had me desperate to get my hands on Chord of Evil (which is out at the end of August 2017). For those of you that have already read it and loved it as I have, you’ll be happy to know the third book in the series has also been commissioned and will be out in August 2017! It’s definitely a series to get your hands on as soon as possible!

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