by Willow Healy
When American Cynthia Graham inherits a cottage in the Lake District, England from a Grandmother she never knew, little does she realise that what she finds there will not only change her life but take her on a perilous journey to the top of the world….
Strange Karma is a well-structured, thoughtfully written mystery thriller with the action set across locations in England, America, Nepal and Tibet. The narrative switches from 1920s to present day so there is also a historical element which I loved. In both periods, intriguing conflicts and a creeping feeling of sinister intent are introduced early on; the plotting is really carefully considered so that there is credibility and continuity. Each story ultimately leads to one conclusion but Ms Healy has engineered lots of side-angles and separate tangents in both narratives which really add texture and interest; there are a number of villains and red herrings which are involving and ratchet the tension up to nail-biting levels. Then, towards the end it hurtles towards a straightforward whodunnit. In this respect, Strange Karma had quite an old-fashioned feel and I mean that as an immense compliment. The elements of writing, plotting and character are carefully multi-layered to really provide a fully rounded and entertaining read that gradually narrows to the final reveal which involves few characters and options yet, as a reader, you are still considering all that went before. It’s a clever and unusual technique by today’s standards when mystery thrillers tend to be a little more straightforward and concerned with the protagonist, often at the expense of story.
The 1920s is well-rendered, a lot of care is taken in evoking the period through dress, mannerism and interior furnishing and it works well without being overdone. Although the characters of Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine and Emma do not figure as heavily once we make the shift to Cynthia’s present-day trek to Everest, they are written with such care that you really feel them echo through the decades to maintain a contemporary presence. All locations are wonderfully realised from the atmospheric, foggy Lake District to the brilliant, descriptive imagery of Nepal and Tibet. Ms Healy’s attention to detail in illuminating the Himalayas and the beautiful, distinctive culture of the Nepalese and Tibetan peoples was staggering in its immersive authenticity. I especially enjoyed the mystical, almost supernatural aura that hung over this part of the story.
Overall, present day characters were nicely developed. Dorje and ‘The Foreigner’ were particularly good. I know nothing of climbing/mountaineering but it appeared to be comprehensively written in this regard and, consequently, I found it very interesting. The level of research employed in Strange Karma is not to be under-estimated. The end could be considered a touch far-fetched and possibly abrupt. There are also couple of loose-ends left floating with a few characters but notwithstanding, I found Strange Karma to be a gripping, skilfully-crafted and thoroughly enjoyable novel that ably straddles the genres of mystery, thriller and historical fiction. Highly recommended.