Customer Review

37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Darkness in the forest, 6 Jan 2013
This review is from: Light Shining in the Forest (Hardcover)
When I reviewed Torday's last book, The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall, I happily gave my review the title "I'd like to live in Torday-Land". That was based on his books - up to that point - being largely inhabited by good chaps, with an amusing habit of wandering out of one book into another to show different sides of what was really one complex, evolving story. While they suffered reverses at the hands of scheming banks, nasty property developers or even foreign terrorists, they learned lessons, remained rooted in the soil and generally survived adversity.

This book takes Torday to a rather different, much darker place.

I wouldn't want to live there. I'm not sure I'd even want to visit for long. The book was enjoyable to read - but to those familiar with Torday's earlier books, I think the atmosphere of "Light Shining..." will come as a bit of a shock. Don't just expect more of the same.

The story opens with Geordie, a forestry worker. Geordie is in a dark place both literally (he works alone in the sprawling Kielder forest) and emotionally: his stepson, Theo, has disappeared in strange circumstances. (Torday described the disappearance in his e-book only novella, Theo. While it seems a good idea to provide more insight into the backstory in this way, I'm not sure that the two books work well together, although explaining why would I think be somewhat off topic here, and difficult without spoilers for both books).

We are then introduced to Norman, a minor bureaucrat and a more familiar Tordayish character. Norman has risen without trace through the ranks of the mandarinate to become Regional Childrens' Commissioner (designate) for the North-East. He remains "designate" because the Department have forgotten he exists, although they provide him with a swanky office, an ample salary and a PA, Pippa, who is marking time while she finds a job better suited to her qualifications. Also featuring in the story is a local journalist, Willie, who is desperate to land a Big Story that will take him away from reporting on the opening of beauty salons and school plays. It is Willie who begins to dig into Theo's disappearance and those of other children, and who acts as a spur to Norman to become involved, eventually leading the three to dark revelations and a frightening nighttime encounter in Kielder Forest.

Alongside the investigation by Norma, Pippa and Willie we are also given glimpses into the upbringing of a boy, and the later life of a man, who develops in a most unsettling way. And there is also a strong hint that what the characters are engaged in has a supernatural dimension (something carried over into this book from "Theo"). I don't want to give away the plot by being too specific about this, but it comes into focus during that dark confrontation and is then explored in hindsight as the story winds down - there are some 40 pages of the book remaining after what you might think was actually its climax - for me, the least satisfying part of the book - less because the ending was rather downbeat for most of those involved than because I'm not sure it was really an ending at all).

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, and the middle part was very gripping. It is rather different from Torday's earlier books (or at least those I've read) and I think that he's to be commended for this, but I don't think it worked as well as it might. Either of the separate, darker strands - the child abduction and the supernatural hints - would have been enough, perhaps, but taken together they are maybe a bit indigestible.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Feb 2013 20:14:47 GMT
Julie Mair says:
This book started with so much promise and was actually quite frustrating and hard to put down. At first, as a casual reader you are trying to figure where the plot is going? It had such strength in the complexity and differences of the characters that you were enjoying their personal journeys. But I was hugely disappointed in the way the book actually withered out. It had so much promise but finished on a wimpier. I am sure the author has some point that was behind my level of reasoning. But I would have loved to have a more satisfying conclusion.
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D. Harris
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Location: Oxford, UK

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