This review of Island in the Clouds, written by Susan M. Toy, has been in the works for quite a while. I have sat down several times to start writing it, but it wasn’t easy to get started. The problem is that I don’t know if I liked this book or not.
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway at the end of June 2014. As any book lover, my to-read stack is huge and seems to continue growing. When I got this book in the mail, I was very happy because Toy had made a personal gift of it. She included a handwritten letter specifically for me. Apparently Susan isn’t 100% Canadian, she is half Belgian which made her very happy to see that a Belgian had won her book. She wrote about her family history, and really made it personal, which I greatly appreciate. I was ready to love the book. And apart from that, she also signed the inside of the book. I love it when authors take the time to write a small personal dedication!
I loved the description of the genre: “part travelogue, part mystery.” The rest of the slogan reads: “Island in the Clouds takes a long, hard look at the reality of living in a place that seems perfect – from the outside, anyway.” Sounds good right? But then I read the blurb, and I lost some of my excitement. It is not a bad blurb, but I found it a bit boring. It didn’t really excite me to read the book. So I did what I always do when I’m not sure about a book: I gave it to my father. I’ve already talked about my dad on this blog before, I’ve inherited my love of books and reading from him. So my dad read it, and confirmed my suspicion: not bad but not great either.
But still, since I got it for free and since a part of the Goodreads giveaway is to write a review, I decided to give it a go. And we’ll launch right into my analysis. Toy knows how to paint a picture. I could imagine the island in my head quite easily, and following her detailed personality descriptions and human insight, it was also not that hard to populate the island in my head. She paints a very beautiful tropical island that got stuck at the end of the previous century. At times the dialect is hard to understand, which in my opinion slowed the story down. This is not a book that you read through quickly, the long descriptions and strange surroundings kept me back a little. It was a book that was easy for me to put down. But, after finishing the book, I did end up with a very detailed picture of the island in my head. I feel like if I were to go to Becquia, I’d feel like I’ve been there before. The thriller part of the story didn’t get started until the final chapters for me. Because of the long descriptions and narrative interludes, I couldn’t get into the suspense, and it wasn’t until the end where the focus was completely on the story that I felt it. Also, I adore the cover! Leave out the gun, and that is my dream reading spot!
So let’s discuss the story now. Basically you’ve got Geoff, who is a Canadian who moved to Becquia a few years ago. He used to work in a company with friends, but they were involved in fraud and he was the scapegoat. As a “consolation prize”, he got to use the servants’ quarters of a big mansion. He works as a property manager, taking care of the big villa’s on the island and lives with a very independent singer. As I said before, it wasn’t until the final chapters where things started unravelling fast that I was captivated by the thriller aspect of the story. And to tie things up in a neat bow, Susan M. Toy writes down Geoff’s thoughts as he thinks over the entire case and how it went down. I felt that was a little artificial, but it suits her descriptive and explanatory writing style.
The rest of the story below, SPOILERS!
The story starts to take off when he finds a dead body in the pool of one of the houses he manages. Apparently the police force is very vulnerable to bribes and in general also not very good. But in the beginning, the island people aren’t really worried. It isn’t until the second body turns up that things heat up, especially since Geoff himself is a suspect. Eventually after a lot of back and forth, he realises who is behind the killings and what exactly is going on. As he is figuring things out, he arrives in the nick of time to save his dog from dying in his burning house. His girlfriend has been kidnapped by the murderer but everything ends up right in the end.
Should you read this book? If you want to create a detailed tropical island in your mind, yes! If you want to read a thriller, but can’t read for longer periods of time, than this is the book for you. There is suspense, but it isn’t so packed together that you can’t put the book down in between chapters.
As I said, it’s very hard for me to decide whether I like this book or not. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but it really is worth saying that Susan really knows how to set a scene. But the slow pace of the story is not for me. I didn’t feel the suspense until the last few chapters, and I prefer thrillers that start of at a killer pace and that you just can’t put down because it’s so exciting. I decree this the perfect read for a staycation! A book you can put down without too much effort, and that makes you feel like you’re lounging by the water with the sun shining down on you.
Did any of you read Island in the Clouds yet? Or did you ever encounter a book where you just can’t decide whether you like it or not?
As always, happy reading.