Title: DEVIL'S LAIR
Author: Sarah Barrie
Publisher: Harlequin Australia
Read: October 2019
Publisher: Harlequin Australia
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: 🌟🌟1/2
After the violent death of her husband, Callie Jones retreats to a cottage in the grounds of an old mansion in Tasmania. The relative remoteness of the place and the wild beauty of the Tasmanian landscape are a balm to her shattered nerves and the locals seem friendly, particularly horseman Connor Atherton and his siblings at the nearby property, Calico Lodge.
But all is not well: the old mansion has a sinister past, one associated with witchcraft and murder. As Callie is threatened by odd events in the night and strange dreams overtake her sleep, she begins to doubt her own sanity. What's really going on beneath the surface of this apparently peaceful town? Are her friends and neighbours really who they seem? As events escalate, Callie starts to realise that the mansion may hold the key to unlocking the mystery, but the truth might have as much power to destroy as it does to save.
This book is a difficult one for me to review because I think that we just weren’t a good fit for each other. I picked it up a few times and put it down again, lured repeatedly by its promise of some Gothic suspense. Just a disclaimer, which is purely my personal opinion, but if you are a fan of Jane Harper’s THE DRY, you are not guaranteed to automatically gel with this book, even if the blurb states so. I don’t think that comparing books to other best sellers does them any favours, UNLESS they are very similar in style. However, to me – whilst an entertaining read – DEVIL’S LAIR lacked the grit of Jane Harper’s or Sarah Bailey’s novels. This is not a bad thing for readers who love a good romantic suspense novel. But for someone who doesn’t do romance well, it was a bit like false advertising.
However, saying that, I can fully appreciate how DEVIL’S LAIR will be a good fit for readers who love a rural romance set in an atmospheric setting with some crime thrown in. There is a bit of murder and suspense, but in a non-confrontational manner that is more easily digestible for readers who shy away from graphic violence. I really enjoyed the Tassie setting and was thoroughly intrigued when the old mansion started to turn a bit creepy – even though there was not enough of that stuff in my opinion. Barrie sets the scene well, and I could easily picture those lush gardens set among green Tassie hills. Despite earlier misgivings, I came to like Callie and thought her to be a plucky character who was not afraid to face her inner demons and rise from the ashes of her traumatic past to make a better life for herself. I also really enjoyed Barrie’s writing style, which was the one thing that kept me reading to the end, even when the romance threatened to take over the storyline.
On the downside, there were so many characters with strange names to keep track of. Not a single Jack, Joe or Jane in the whole group! They were each going about their daily lives, which took up a lot of the story with often mundane descriptions of everyday stuff that wasn’t relevant to the plot. Sometimes that works well for me, other times I get a bit bored. I thought that instead of hearing about tree planting and meals in the staff room, or random conversations between the twenty or so characters working on the property, I would have loved to see a bit more action, especially the spooky stuff that was going on in the old house. It had so much more potential to be super creepy! There was even a weird over-friendly guy who gave me goosebumps for all the wrong reasons and it skirted the border of spooky a few times, but never quite got over the finish line.
Instead, I got a very predictable romance between the two main characters that held absolutely no surprises and little interest for me. As I said – not a good fit for this reader! At some point, my cynical mind coined the story as The Bachelor with some weird Gothic murders thrown in, which no one seemed particularly freaked out about. If I had found a few mutilated corpses on my property (who BTW were staff members of mine), my first priority would probably not be to feed the B & B guests and impress the visiting food critic. I could go on and on about all the things that bugged me about the crime elements of the book, but it would take way too long – let’s just say I had major issues with credibility here. Towards the end, I felt that the author was trying too hard to fit in as much weird stuff as possible – there were cases of mistaken identity, a few ritualistic murders, mental illness, a psychopath on a killing spree, witchcraft, things that go bump in the night ... too much, TOO MUCH!
To sum it all up, I concede that DEVIL’S LAIR and I were not a good match. I suspect that many lovers of gritty Australian crime will struggle with some of the same elements that made my eyes roll back in my head like a Chucky doll, leading to the consumption of several paracetamol to quell the ensuing headache. I really think that comparing this book to THE DRY is doing it a disservice – fans of cosier mysteries and romantic suspense will most likely enjoy it much more than I did.
Thank you to Netgalley and Harlequin Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.
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