In which roughseasinthemed travels to the Caribbean.
Apparently Bequia is a tropical paradise in the Caribbean, and specifically, one of the Grenadines, part of St Vincent and the Grenadines, which are also part of the Windward Islands, and the greater chain of islands known as the Lesser Antilles. Author Susan Toy has lived there for some years, as well as living in her native Canada.
Island in the Clouds by Susan M Toy
It’s always interesting – for me – to read a book that involves ex-pats living in supposedly idyllic situations, and this book certainly has a motley mix of ex-pats.
I suppose basically it’s a murder crime/mystery sort of book set in the Caribbean, but as the local police are suitably incompetent, much of the investigation is carried out by a small group of multi-national ex-pats. In terms of plot, I’m saying no more, as further detail would just spoil it for anyone who chooses to read it.
Although I started this book ages ago, a broken ankle got in the way, so I only returned to it recently and managed to polish it off in two sittings, or goes, or whatever. It’s just short of 200 pages.
Susan’s style is eminently readable, and her characters are realistic and plausible, both ex-pats and the locals. Island is written in the first person, from the perspective of Geoff (Canadian), who has a property management company on the island. He’s also the one who discovers the dead body in the swimming pool at the beginning of the novel. For some reason, he reminded me of Chandler’s Marlowe, probably because of the way he thinks things through.
As with all good mysteries, there are some unexpected twists, that finally tie up the whole package, although it’s a realistic ending rather than a perfect one, yet another reason why this was a good read.
For animal lovers, Geoff has a wonderful dog, taken in from the street after he followed him home one day, complete with ticks and fleas (unlike Pippa who, despite being a street dog, was surprisingly clean, just injured), and Gus plays a very important part in this book.
There are some lush descriptions of this part of paradise, including a trip over to St Vincent, as well as equally well-drawn images of the seedier side of life – which exists everywhere, even in tropical paradise islands.
And while I’m not a prologue fan, Susan uses it differently to introduce her readers to Bequia. It’s not part of the story, but it is an interesting read and more of an introduction than a prologue. And, as she tells us in her first sentence, it’s pronounced BECK-way. There was me thinking it was Be-KEE-a.
Bottom line, it’s a good read, totally recommended if you like this style of book. Mysteries/thrillers are my favourite choice, so it’s great to find something slightly different that ticks all the boxes. I also must say that it’s got a good cover, and the book is well-formatted, with dinky little palm trees at the top of every chapter heading.
I think it would make an interesting one for a book club discussion, in terms of plot, characters, geographical situation and observations about local and ex-pat life.
Susan’s next book, One Woman’s Island is provisionally due to be ePublished in December, and based on Island in the Clouds, it’s worth putting on your Christmas wish list. It’s the second novel in her Bequia Perspectives series, each one told from the point of view of a different resident on Bequia, and each one also has some type of mystery to it.
When Mariana leaves Canada to escape the memory of a personal tragedy and try to rebuild her life, her first thought is to return to Bequia where she once was happy visiting as a tourist. Not wanting to become just another ex-pat, drinking and gossiping away six months, she decides to put her personal wealth and kind heart to use by living among, and helping out, the seemingly impoverished and less fortunate local people. But no good deed goes unpunished, and Mariana experiences a side of the island she never imagined existed when she was simply a tourist.
She has also given me an exclusive tasty titbit to reveal about One Woman’s Island – remember! you read it here first! – at the end of each chapter, there will be a Bequia recipe corresponding to a meal or drink that was mentioned in that chapter. [note to self, when writing book about travels/Andalucía, remember to steal that idea, reckon I can manage seven to ten chapters of Axarquían recipes]
Susan says, ‘The main character loves to cook (as do I) and I thought this could be an interesting addition so readers will learn even more about the island.’
Island in the Clouds is available at all the usual on-line shops, but for readers of this blog, Susan is offering a number of giveaway ebooks. I got a review copy anyway, but I’d certainly recommend taking advantage of her offer. Just let me know in the comments below if you are interested.
When I was drafting this post and plaguing the life out of Susan with requests for different bits of info, the poor woman was suffering from Chikungunya virus (avian flu?) and she said more than half the people on Bequia had it or previously had it. Chikungunya, by the way, is a nasty debilitating illness spread by mosquitoes.
Where else can you find such amazing unheard of information apart from roughseasinthemedgoestothecaribbean? And the first smartarse to say they knew all about Bequia and Chickungunya virus before they read this post will most definitely not be eligible for the free giveaway. Otherwise, there are no restrictions on the giveaway.
Of course when I win the lotto that I never enter, (the only tickets I have ever ‘bought’ were when I entered a syndicate at work and that was as an insurance policy because I couldn’t bear the thought of my colleagues getting the big win leaving me stuck at my desk while they all chucked their jobs), I shall leave the banal humdrum suburban life of Gibraltar and Spain and move to the Caymans or Turcs and Caicos. And then I can regale you all with first-hand tales from roughseasinthecaribbean. But for now, I’ll have to live vicariously through Susan’s novels.
Many thanks to Susan for her help with this post, including replying to all my endless questions and sending additional photos of Bequia.
And, I’ll end with a top tip for all authors. Her original email said, ‘Many thanks for asking to read my novel for a possible review.’ How polite is that? A possible review? Someone sends a free book, on trust, and leaves it up to me to decide whether or not to review it. Nor, on the copy of the book I read, does she indulge in my pet peeve, of ending her book with ‘if you enjoyed this book please leave a gushing five star review on Amazon’.
For all self-publishing authors, there are some interesting lessons here.
- A very clearly-defined niche subject – Bequia. Who on earth has heard of Bequia? etc. It’s unusual, and interesting. It’s not yet another LAPD or the Met.
- While Bequia is the central character to her series, there is a recurrent mystery theme in each novel.
- She has paid out for professional services – editing, graphics and formatting – resulting in a very smart looking product. Equally, some people can do some of that on their own, (usually not the editing), and if I don’t carp about the editing of a book, it means someone has done a pretty decent job.
- There is absolutely nothing in your face about her marketing style. It is subtle, polite, understated and helpful. Having spent years in PR and knowing how difficult it is to get good publicity, I admire someone who pitches it correctly. Well, correctly to me that is.
- I like the fact that although it is a series with a common theme, there is no cliffhanger ending. Along with the ‘please give me the five star Amazon review’ plea, I hate the books that are left unfinished, so you have to buy the next one to find out what happens. Especially when the books are short anyway. If your writing is good enough, people will buy/read more without needing such cheap tactics.
Susan’s Reading Recommendations blog