Grieving the loss of wife and mother, Aidan and Melangell visit the renowned spiritual retreat center on the British island of Lindisfarne so Aidan can share with bright eight-year-old Melangell one of the places that inspired Jenny to write her books.
There they meet up with Jenny’s friend Lucy, a Methodist minister, who is teaching a course on the local Northumbrian saints. Lucy has brought Rachel, a troubled teenager, to the Holy Island in hopes that the remoteness and peace of the location will help her.
But when Rachel is found dead on the beach, everyone on the island is under suspicion. As investigators and Rachel’s “friends” come to the island, Aidan and Lucy learn more about Rachel, and Lucy’s past as a policewoman is revealed.
And so Aidan is drawn into his second mystery. Masterfully told by award-winning author Fay Sampson, Death on Lindisfarne explores the complicated motivations of fallen people against the backdrop of ancient holiness.
Have you noticed how the majority of Christian fiction set in Britain is written by Americans? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that: if the research has been done, the result is often a great work. I’ve reviewed several of these novels and have been impressed by many of them. It is, however, refreshing to read a Christian novel set in Britain that is written by a British author.
Death on Lindisfarne is set maybe one year after the events of The Hunted Hare. Wife, mother and Celtic history writer, Jenny, has been dead six months, and widowed Aidan is on a pilgrimage of sorts with their daughter, Melangell. A residential course on the historic island sounds wonderful, and Melangell is overjoyed to find her mother’s books on the retreat center’s bookshelf. But other guests make it difficult to find peace, and when one of the group is found dead on the sands everyone is instantly a suspect.
I visited Lindisfarne on a school trip 25 years ago. I’ve also visited the final resting place of Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral, and know a bit about the Lindisfarne Gospels. Despite that, I learned more about the early Christian Celtic church in this novel that I had previously known. There is a lot of historical detail contained within these pages, but it never reads like a dry text book. The Celtic church endured many difficulties and conflicts, which are mirrored in the contemporary storyline. Who lives out the Gospel and who believes in only preaching hell and damnation? Which is more important? Does it matter if the minister or leader is male or female? The physical description of this area of Northumberland coast is also accurately detailed. Because the tide covers the only road to the mainland at certain times of the day the island can be both busy and isolated, especially during the tourist season.
The plot itself is straightforward. There are a couple of small twists, but I was more focused on guessing the identity of the murderer to really pay attention to those. Each character is different from another, some are more likeable than others, and a couple of the non-Christians in the group do some questionable things. Several characters are easily identifiable as potential suspects. The book is written from two alternating points of view: Aidan’s and Lucy’s. As a result, the reader doesn’t get to know everything that is going on because these two don’t know. Why would either of them be privy to the precise details of the murder or motive, for example? But reading from their perspective means they can be ruled out as suspects, and I think it’s impossible to suspect Melangell. Speaking of Melangell, I’d love to know what she’s like at school. At times, she is delightfully childlike, but there are moments when she shows wisdom beyond her years.
Thank you to Kregel for my free copy of Death on Lindisfarne, which I received in exchange for an honest review.
You can learn more about Holy Island and its history at the Lindisfarne website.
Publisher: Kregel Publications
Publication Date: 01 June 2013
Page Count: 257