"English psychic Clarissa Wilkinson is holidaying in the Canary Islands. Hoping to have an adventure, she boards a tour bus bound for Villa Winter, a secret Nazi base on the idyllic island of Fuerteventura. Instead, she discovers a body in a chest and finds herself teamed up with hapless crime writer Richard Parry. What unfolds is an edge of seat mystery brimming with intrigue, as they try to unravel the clues together, and find the killer. "
(This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review)
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Little does the reader know when they pick up a copy of The Ghost of Villa Winter by Isobel Blackthorn that a cult is lurking about inside the pages.
We begin our journey with Clarissa ,our main character, boarding a tour bus where she lets her personality shine through, which turns out to be extremely judgmental of anyone who isn't like her, or doesn't fit into the categories she places them in. For example, the driver of the tour bus is automatically labeled by Clarissa as a bad man because he has an uneven face and a French accent, and much of the same is said about the other seven passengers, as well. When she finally manages to stop judging the passengers, readers find out that Clarissa is somewhat of a psychic: "Ghosts spoke a language of their own and if a member of the spirit world inhabited the abandoned abode, she was sure to pick up on it. She was never wrong in these matters. Only three of the thirty or more premises she'd investigated on so-called ghost tours had contained a legitimate ghost. She prided herself on her mediumistic prowess. She was apt to pick up on preternatural inhabitants of places said not to be haunted. Sometimes she thought she could singlehandedly re-write history based on information she had gleaned, but that was being arrogant. She followed her dreams and her visions and her intuition, that was all. A natural psychic and a cynic to boot. "
It turns out that Clarissa is on the tour to see if she can encounter any spirits that may be at the infamous Villa Winter; a place that is believed to have been a secret Nazi base, as well as a place for human experiments - - - the tower was also believed to have been used as a lighthouse for German U-boats - - - which, in reality, Villa Winter is an actual place that exists on the Canary Islands in Spain.
The Ghost of Villa Winter is the fourth book in Blackthorn's Canary Islands Mysteries series, but it can be easily read as an introduction to it because you don't need any background information to understand what is going on. The novel takes on the usual tropes of a murder-mystery plot (a body is found, people are stranded and trying to figure out who among them is the murderer). Agatha Christie is one of the best authors of the murder-mystery genre who loved using her knowledge of poisons in her stories - - - Blackthorn treats the tropes with the right amount of respect which makes The Ghost of Villa Winter a pretty good story.
My major complaint for the Ghost of Villa Winter are the characters, which I found every single one quite unlikable, and even by the end, I couldn't bring myself to care at all for Clarissa. The way that she judged everyone so harshly, and her viewpoint that if no one acted the way she wanted them to, she would believe something was wrong with them that needed to be addressed in a rude manner: "He was the most anxious man she had come across in a long time. Anxious, unsure of himself and preoccupied. Far too self-conscious. The way he'd aligned his plate at lunch. That was obsessive-compulsive. And he certainly couldn't handle Fred Spice. She was sure he could be charming with pretty young ladies, patronizing even, but around her he was awkward. It was clear, too, that he was broken. It wouldn't be easy being an author knowing as you aged that all of your success was behind you and your future held nothing but diminishment. Writing was one of those activities you could pursue until you dropped and many successful authors did just that. As irritating as he could be, she felt sorry for him. "
The other characters are all seen from Clarissa's viewpoint, so they come off quite annoying, but at one point it seemed like Blackthorn was trying to redeem Clarissa's negative qualities by making her an advocate for a possibly wrongly convicted man. This story line didn't come off as redemption for me, but rather to fuel Clarissa's need to be important and in the right. Blackthorn failed to make any of the characters grow above pettiness. If a reader doesn't have a character to root for, the story becomes unenjoyable - - - which is the main reason I gave the book such a low rating; the murder-mystery was interesting, but the characters were not.
The murder, a woman who may have been part of a cult, is found inside a nailed-up crate with a tattoo of a number on her body being one of the only clues that puts Clarissa into sleuth-mode. After believing that one of the tourists is the killer, she decides to keep the discovery of the murder between her and Richard - - - a crime author who came to Villa Winter in hopes of a book inspiration. The two slowly begin to investigate their fellow tourists to figure out who had the mind and motive to kill the young woman, but this doesn't seem to be as easy as it is in Richard's books. I did have a problem though with the ending which ends up being very reminiscent of a majority of short stories: the ending came abruptly and the pieces fell into a place that was unbelievable.
I had never read any of Blackthorn's books before, so I didn't have much of an expectation reading the Ghost of Villa Winter. Unfortunately, I came away from this one pretty dissatisfied because all of the interesting points in the story (such as the cult) are rarely shown/explored further. Also, the fact that 'ghost' is in the title, I was pretty let down with only a couple of scenes where a ghost actually shows up, one such short-lived scene: "She [Clarissa] was about to carry on when a figure appeared in one of the uppermost tower windows. Appeared, and then was gone. At least, what she thought to be a figure. Could have been a ghost. " The scenes are so short that I believe 'ghost' shouldn't be in the title because it's misleading.
With quite a few amateur writing mistakes, and unlikable characters, I don't think I will read anymore of the books in this series. I loved the idea of a cult murder and a haunting in a possible Nazi base, but too much of the focus in the story was on Clarissa's judgmental outlook on everything that it ended up not being the story it could have been. I can only recommend this book to people who want a quick murder-mystery (what most call the genre 'cozy mystery'), but for paranormal lovers, the ghosts practically disappeared within a few pages.
About Isobel Blackthorn:
Isobel Blackthorn is a prolific novelist of unique and engaging fiction. She writes across a range of genres, including gripping mysteries and dark psychological thrillers.
Isobel won the Finalist Award in the Readers' Favorite Book Awards 2020 for her novel 'A Prison in the Sun.' Her short story 'Nothing to Declare' was shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize 2019. Isobel won a Raven Award in 2019 for her dark thriller 'A Legacy of Old Gran Parks.' 'The Cabin Sessions' was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award 2018 and the Ditmar Awards 2018.
Isobel holds a PhD in Western Esotericism from the University of Western Sydney for her ground-breaking study of the texts of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey. Her engagement with Alice Bailey's life and works has culminated in the biographical novel 'The Unlikely Occultist' and the full biography 'Alice A. Bailey: Life and Legacy.'
Isobel carries a lifelong passion for the Canary Islands, Spain, her former home. Four of her novels are set on the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. These standalone novels are setting rich and fall into the broad genre of travel fiction.
Isobel has led a rich and interesting life and her stories are as diverse as her experiences, the highs and lows, and the dramas. A life-long campaigner for social justice, Isobel has written, protested and leant her weight to a range of issues including asylum seekers and family violence. A Londoner originally, Isobel currently lives in rural Victoria, Australia.
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