Book reviews: Light Shining In The Forest, The Friday Gospels, The Burning Air

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Light Shining In The Forest

Paul Torday

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen writer Paul Torday’s latest work uses the stark environment of the North East as an effective backdrop in this page-turner concerning the mysterious disappearance of three children.

All three seemingly have very different lives, with each case headed under the emotionless police conclusion of “a child goes missing every five minutes”.

It takes the unlikely alliance of a bored regional journalist and a faceless government bureaucrat to help uncover the mystery of each case, and what may link them.

Torday’s exploration of human anguish and pain, interspersed with the dark, haunting rural environment, provides the template, while his biting social comment showcases a writer at the very top of his game.

The Friday Gospels

Jenn Ashworth

Sceptre, £17.99

Jenn Ashworth takes inspiration from her religious roots in The Friday Gospels, her third novel.

It recounts a not-so-ordinary day in the life of a Lancastrian Mormon family, when son Gary is due to return from the customary two years of missionary service in America.

While invalid matriarch Pauline prepares excitedly for his arrival, the other family members are busy conducting their own darkly consequential plans.

Despite the novel offering a twist on the usual dysfunctional family drama, and being peppered with lovely prose, its plot is sadly just not gripping enough to sustain the reader’s attention.

In terms of an insight into the Mormon culture, it misses a trick by assuming the reader is already aware of the sect’s traditions and rituals.

The Burning Air

Erin Kelly

Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99.

A momentary lapse of judgment results in far-reaching and terrible consequences in Erin Kelly’s new psychological thriller.

Kelly, whose much-praised debut The Poison Tree was adapted for TV, catapults us into a world of deceit and revenge, where nothing is quite as it seems.

In The Burning Air, we follow the MacBride family to their second home in Devon, where they gather to scatter the ashes of dead matriarch Lydia.

Daughter Sophie, battling to save her own marriage, leaves her young baby with her brother’s new girlfriend but returns to find the girl and her precious baby have both vanished.

What follows is a skilfully woven web of revelations, showing how past mistakes come back to haunt in the future.

Flitting between past and present and told through the perspective of no less than five characters, it is a chilling, atmospheric book that is almost impossible to put down.

Kelly takes an unflinching look at middle-class attitudes, posing some uncomfortable questions: how far are we prepared to go to protect those we love and what happens when ordinary people are confronted with extraordinary events?

There is no let-up in the tension as we hurtle towards the shocking conclusion.

Pupils reading comics at Leeds Free School in 1973. (YPN).

The highs and lows of teaching in Yorkshire the 1970s