Sophie attends a well-being retreat hoping to find herself, instead she finds a dead body.
Coming to the Scottish Highlands, she hopes to escape life and get in touch with her inner self. She wants to free herself from the anxieties that have gripped her for years.
Peace and harmony are advertised but what she discovers is anything but.
She is around women with other ideas. As she gets to know the strange bunch staying at Glenloch Hall, fights and arguments become the norm.
She should never have entered that fateful property.
She was looking for peace but found death.
Sophie Brown works as a counsellor at a women’s centre. She’s definitely been through the wringer; as a recovering alcoholic and a victim of domestic abuse she’s putting her experiences to good use in helping other women who may have gone through similar. Before this she was training to become an accountant, but the desire to retrain and change direction led her to her current role. Her previous encounters with men who are less than desirable have led her to become very insecure in her relationship with her new flame, Jack. Jack is a very understanding and stable influence in Sophie’s life and she knows it, which just makes her all the more worried that she’ll mess it up at some point and lose him. When we first meet Sophie in The Sinister Gathering (TSG) she has had some kind of falling out with Jack, over what she isn’t quite sure. He is giving her the cold shoulder, but that isn’t unusual apparently, as he’s prone to ‘blow hot and cold’ as she puts it. Still, she’s peeved at him and decides to put his nose out of joint even further by looking for a bit of fun (not in that way), and in doing so she notices a notice on the noticeboard at work:
“Escape city life for a short break in rural Scotland. This female-only retreat is located within thirty-two acres of woodland. The centre focuses on meditation with gentle yoga classes and is designed for both mindfulness beginners, and those with established knowledge, seeking a refresher. Get in touch with your inner self. Revitalise your life with one of our short courses. Enjoy delicious, wholesome food while you switch off your phone for a few days away. Make lifelong friends as you bond with like-minded individuals. In just a few short days, you can transform your life. The courses are suitable for all women seeking spiritual fulfilment and healing. Discover peace, harmonious connections, and purpose and take back the wonderful life you are meant to have.”
To be honest that all sounds quite lovely, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t like to revitalise their life once in a while? Even I would quite fancy that and I’m not one for wishy-washy mumbo jumbo and looking into yourself whilst sitting in, quite frankly, tortuous positions and going ‘ohmmmm’. But the idea of switching off from the rigours of everyday life, reassessing yourself and going off-grid for a while does hold a certain appeal. Apparently Sophie agrees and as such she rings up and books herself onto the course.
Now, I’m no Sherlock Holmes, Poirot or even Inspector Clouseau, but given the title of this book is ‘The Sinister Gathering’, I don’t think it takes much for you to realise that things won’t be quite as idyllic and relaxing as they are made out to be on the little flyer there.
Once Sophie arrives she meets the other attendees of the course, all of whom are returning participants. I have to say, as soon as she arrives and meets professional hypochondriac Susan, alarm bells should have started ringing. Quite how any of these women can stand to return to each other’s company year after year escapes me, but the food is great so that’s something. There’s a lot to be said for a good buffet. There are a lot of characters in TSG and most, if not all of them, are troubled souls and some of them are pretty unlikeable to boot. To feel that way about them is a testament to how well written they are, but one can’t help feeling that you would like to put several of them in a bus and drive it off a cliff. But it becomes clear as the story progresses that each has more to them that meets the eye and you begin to understand, at least in part, the underlying issues that fuel their neuroses.
The Sinister Gathering is a strange book and not quite what I expected from the blurb. Yes there’s a dead body, you get that right from the prologue, but then that is all but forgotten about until about two thirds of the way through when the body is discovered. As such this isn’t a traditionally told murder mystery story. I have to admit that there were times when I wondered when it would get to the point, but then again there were also times when I also wanted to be at the retreat, losing myself in some meditative session or other and looking inside myself. Once the body is discovered things take a more traditional turn as Sophie and her boyfriend Jack, who is a Private Investigator, fish about looking into not only why the victim died, but also into the disappearance of one of the other attendees, something that has been bothering Sophie for a while.
As you can see from the cover above, this is book 3 in the Sophie Brown series although it reads perfectly fine as a standalone. I didn’t feel that I was missing out on any previous details from other books that prevented me from enjoying this one.
The Sinister Gathering is a slow burner, taking its time to build up the story and getting to know its characters in the most intimate ways. You really do get into the heads of these people, for better or for worse. Glenloch Hall is populated by a right bunch of oddities, all of whom are well drawn and have distinct personalities. They all have interesting and, in some cases, very traumatic backstories that unfold as the story progresses that ground them quite firmly in reality. Sophie herself is a likeable person who has obviously had some difficult times of her own, told, I’m guessing, in the earlier books. Diane’s descriptions of the various classes Sophie attends at the retreat will have you feeling relaxed and quite meditative at times.
Overall The Sinister Gathering is a well told story and a great introduction to the world of Sophie Brown if you haven’t read the other books in the series, or just as a standalone. It really gets into the heads of its characters and looks into what makes them tick and, eventually, breaks them.
Manchester born Diane Ezzard writes emotionally charged psychological thrillers and mysteries about everyday people in seemingly ordinary circumstances until something goes badly wrong in their lives.
Before taking early retirement to concentrate on her writing, she worked as a HR manager, a counsellor, owned a cafe and managed a charity.
She now lives and writes in South East London close to her daughter and grandchildren.
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My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources and to Diane for my review copy of her book. Please check out the other great bloggers on the tour to find out more about The Sinister Gathering.