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Tuesday 6 January 2015

‘Omens’ by Kelley Armstrong

Published by Sphere in Paperback,
31 July 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-4718-4

Mystery fiction isn’t just about solving crimes; sometimes the mystery element is a little more mysterious than that.

Kelley Armstrong is best known as a fantasy writer, notably her Women of the Otherworld series, so it’s no surprise that her foray into crime fiction with the Cainsville series does a little more than nod in that direction.

On the surface, Cainsville is an ordinary small town in the American midwest. It’s where Liv Jones, Chicago socialite, pitches up when her glamorous, cushioned existence implodes, and when she begins to scratch that surface, what she finds underneath isn’t ordinary at all.

Liv is on the run from the media storm which follows her discovery that her wealthy parents adopted her as an infant, and that her natural parents are convicted serial killers. Not only does she have to build a new life for herself; she also finds herself hurled into a re-examination of her parents’ crimes which may prove their innocence. Cainsville proves a haven of sorts, as she sets out to learn about her parents, and maybe even find who she really is – and the town has plenty of secrets of its own.

Armstrong handles both kinds of mystery with a sure hand. Liv is feisty, intelligent and intuitive: not at all the spoiled brat her affluent upbringing could so easily have bred. She meets the challenges presented by her new lifestyle head on, and learns to fend for herself and trust her own judgement, often against the advice of others.

Cainsville and its inhabitants are intriguing to say the least. There are wise old ladies, a remarkably sensible psychic, quite a few wily twists on small-town clichés such as the cranky landlady and the ubiquitous would-be novelist in the café – and of course the omens of the title, which open Liv’s mind to a whole new world.

A whodunit Omens is definitely not. The crimes happened long before the story begins, and right to the end it’s far from clear whether the convicted criminals are really guilty. Suspicious deaths occur as Liv and her shady lawyer accomplice Gabriel Walsh follow a trail which takes them into parts of Chicago Liv never knew existed; but those deaths are clues rather than new mysteries.

Armstrong weaves a complex yet delicate web of intrigue, and certainly drew me into Cainsville’s shadowy, cryptic world. By the end of the book, I wanted to know where Liv and Gabriel would go next – and that’s what starting a series is all about.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Kelly Armstrong says she has been telling stories since before she could write. She says her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed. Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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