21 April 2016

Review #405: 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Portugal is a high hill with a white watch tower on it flying signal flags. It is apparently inhabited by one man who lives in a long row of yellow houses with red roofs, and populated by sheep who do grand acts of balancing on the side of the hill."

----Richard H. Davis

Deborah Lawrenson, an English writer, pens a fascinating tale of romance, mystery and escapism, in her new book, 300 Days of Sun that unfolds the journey of two women- one in the present times and another in the World war II era, and set against a mystifying and eye-catchy backdrop of the country, Portugal, where they both discovers that the country is not only laced by the beauty of mother nature but is gripped by a seeding underworld where corruption, scandals and murders are the major highlights.


Traveling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.

Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into The Alliance, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.

Joanna, a journalist has escaped to the scenic landscape of Faro situated on the southern tip of Algarve coast in Portugal, from her troubling past and bad relationships. She enrolled herself in a Portuguese language course and that is here she meets the enchanting and the Casanova, Nathan Emberlin, who asks Joanna for her help to investigate about some child disappearances that occurred two decades ago. Joanna agrees to help Nathan and on her path to this investigation, she meets a retired British ex-pat, Ian Rylands, who helps her by lending a novel, The Alliance written by a woman named, Esta Hartfordin in the year 1954.

While reading the novel, Joanna realizes that the story is not merely fictional instead its very real and is based on real-life characters, Alva and Mike Barton. It unfolds the story of a couple who spent their time in Lisbon during the second world war. And similarly, the author too have confronted the dark secrets of this beautiful country that still exist in Joanna's current timeline.

The author's writing style is fantastic and the author sets an atmospheric mood for the readers in the story line, thus making it an enthralling read. The narrative is engaging and will keep the readers glued till the very last page. The mystery set in this small Portuguese coastal town is quite layered and as each layer is revealed, the story gets more complicated, thus keeping its readers anticipating till the very end. The pacing is really fast as the story progresses swiftly towards its unpredictable climax.

The best part of the novel is its setting, which is situated across the picturesque backdrop of an old walled town, Faro, that harbors the marina, the evocative historical aspects and its culture. And it feels the author has simply not penned the details through her articulate words but has vividly arrested the whole city into the story line with its architecture, heritage and its sunny weather, and yes its a real treat for those readers who are looking to spend their next summer holidays in a traditional coastal town. And the story is a complete getaway for those who are looking for an escape into the laps of golden beaches.

The author has also captured the city of Lisbon during the World War II and how it was left unaffected by the wrath of the Nazis or the Allies. The story of Alva, who was an unhappy married woman and her journey to escape her sad life is quite compelling to read and the author has painted her story with lots of deep, heart-felt emotion as she too get tangled into the dark underbelly of Portugal.

The characters are highly interesting and drawn from realism. The demeanor of both the women are brave and excellent and their journeys are gripping to read about. The supporting cast are also very well-developed.

Overall, this masterpiece is a must read for mystery fans as well as for the contemporary fiction lovers. The intrigue is very evident in each and every page of this book, thus you must carry this book while travelling to your next holiday destination.

Verdict: Go ahead pick a copy of this book now.

Courtesy : Thanks to the author, Deborah Lawrenson, for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.

Author Info:
After a childhood of constant moves around the world - my family lived at various times in Kuwait, China, Belgium, Luxembourg and Singapore - I read English at Trinity College, Cambridge. I trained as a journalist on a weekly South London newspaper, then worked on several national newspapers and magazines.
My first novel Hot Gossip (1994) was a satire based on my experiences working on Nigel Dempster's diary column, and was followed by a sequel, Idol Chatter (1995). The Moonbathers, a black comedy, followed in 1998.
The Art of Falling was a complete change of direction, which took five years to research and write. But trying to get it published was like starting from scratch again. In the end, after many false dawns and disappointments, I published it myself under the Stamp Publishing imprint in September 2003.
Almost immediately it became clear that the novel had struck a chord with booksellers and reading groups around my home in Kent. Ottakar's liked it enough to recommend it to their stores nationwide, and the rights were sold to Random House.
The Art of Falling was republished by Arrow in July 2005 and chosen as one of the books for the WHSmith Fresh Talent promotion that summer. It went on to sell more than all the others put together!
Songs of Blue and Gold is in a similar style: a story that grew out of my curiousity about past events and a love for the warmer shores and colours of southern Europe.
My latest novel, The Lantern, has been chosen for The TV Book Club Summer Reads 2011 on Channel4 and More4. I have also written a linked short story for Woman&Home magazine's 2011 summer reading supplement.
I currently divide my time between rural Kent and a crumbling hamlet in Provence, which is the atmospheric setting for The Lantern.
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