The DCI Jonah Sheens Series by Gytha Lodge

UPDATED 05/04/2021: #3 Lie Beside Me review posted below!

I previously posted my review of number #1: She Lies In Wait in April 2020, and eagerly anticipated the release of number #2: Watching From The Dark from reading the extract at the end.

I rather quickly settled into liking Gytha’s writing style, but also how she builds her characters and their subsequent development, so read on below for my thoughts on the series so far…

#1: She Lies In Wait

Despite a couple of small continuation errors I spotted, on the whole it’s a well written first thriller, filled with interesting characters, especially her police team who’s backstories make you thoughtful and I for sure will want to read her next book; “Watching from the Dark” published this year (the prologue snippet at the end of “She Lies in Wait” has me hooked already!). I get the sense that Gytha Lodge is an author who will specialise in not so much why people do what they do, but rather why they don’t do what they should have. I find that quite exciting and so I’m looking forward to reading her next Jonah Sheens book, as I very much liked him as a character and want his personality to expand as the series continues. The other members of the police team have me intrigued as well, so all in all the author has captured me hook, line and sinker!

So, this book seemed to have a fairly typical outline – something bad happened to one out of a friendship group 30 years ago and the police have to determine the truth about who’s responsible and what happened through unpicking a network of lies. But, this book has more ‘oomph’ that just the simple, generic plot idea. There is this toxicity that oozes from the pages, and it’s mixed with fierce protection and betrayal that really gets to you as the reader. I ended up feeling lots of emotions towards each character; mostly heart-breaking sympathy or utter disgust. Ultimately, this group of young friends had just planned a fun night camping, so how could it possibly have gone so horribly wrong? Or, was something or someone else to blame?

This story-line is laced with misdirection and I loved it! I was kept entirely on my toes, because each twist and turn sent my thinking in a different direction, which helped the ‘real feel’ of the book, because I can imagine genuine police investigations have to deal with secrets, lies, held-back information, not to mention actual, and faked, blurred memories. I felt the 30 year later cold case aspect linked with the present day very well, as the daunting realisation (and resignation) came across in a strong manner from all characters; not just the suspects, but police team included so they felt authentic (and human!). I’m glad the police characters in this book aren’t ‘acting superheros’ with extraordinary training and powers, but seemingly-average, hard-working, each with their own strengths to bring to the table coppers.

Opportunity became key. It comes down to who possibly could actually have done it, because once all their stories are fitted together, there is one last puzzle piece and it’s a “of course” moment! This story explores truly horrible themes, all of which are habitual among teenagers, but the consequences in this instance will break your heart. Gut-wrenching innocence and naivety from all parties jumbled up with nail-biting suspense kept me turning page-after-page. I have no shame in admitting that a gentle tear or two rolled down my face reading the last chapter (and I am not a crier). The emotion had just built up over the course of the book and I suppose it was the sense of relief and justice that got to me in the end, but the book evoked a response from me, so the author has done her job!

I feel that this book is highly topical because the pressures on young people to conform and fit in are so high these days and I hate it! I feel like I want to scream “stand your ground” at teenagers to make them realise there isn’t any mileage in following the conventional life route, not that it would ever alleviate the pressures they feel from others. Giving in because you don’t think there’s another option or that it might not be as bad as you think is something that I wish more awareness was raised about. There is always another way. You always have a choice. Surrounding yourself with friends who won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do isn’t cowardly or pathetic, it’s creating a safety net of genuine people who care and will be beside you for the entirety of your life, and could keep you from ending up in a situation like in this book. There is no doubt in my mind that the sequence of events in this book could be a true story, having played out similarly at some point, and it makes me so sad.

All-in-all, a fresh and chilling story about friendship that may leave you reaching for a tissue, with a lasting perception of no matter how old and grown up you get, the person inside doesn’t change. Not completely. Some people are just wired with menace and sickening control, and no amount of learning social skills can change their background and fundamental principles. A lot of fault and blame is thrown around, as would be a natural response given the case, but it added to the perplexing nature of the crime because you really couldn’t see a clear perpetrator right until the end. Dark, deep and tough to read in places; this thriller will get you on the edge of your seat wondering who lied. And why? – GJ

#2: Watching From The Dark

The premise of this book is delightfully simple – everyone has secrets. Who’s hiding what, and why? But it goes into so much more depth than that; I was fully drawn in, so much so that I found myself shouting at my neighbours New Year’s fireworks to be quiet as they were distracting my reading of the last chapter at 00:06 2021!

The layers to every character are great, properly keep you guessing, and while you may figure out a few, others will be total “oooh” and “whaaaat” moments when revealed. At the forefront this book centres around misguided love, but factoring in a fiercely protective network of jealous friends makes it delicious to read. The detective side of the writing is set up to follow a procedural police route, but the background and development of each team member adds extra spark.

I won’t spoil the plot or go into too much detail here, but I liked the simplicity of the resolution, mixed with the misdirection throughout the investigation. I think there were a couple of loose ends that weren’t tied up, but for the most part it was a thorough report into solving a fictional crime. Gytha truly can create the feeling of real-life confusion that must be experienced by detective teams around the world and I, personally, enjoy this approach to crime novels. When a storyline has less fantasy and luck moments, with just the right piece of evidence miraculously appearing at a crucial moment or accidentally bumping into a suspect, you can believe the author has really invested time in their research and planning, which as a avid reader, I appreciate!

There was an eye-opening moment in Watching From The Dark surrounding cyber security, where the technical implications made a chill run down my spine… so the novel really suits it’s name!

The first extract from Lie Beside Me has really caught my attention too, so as soon as I am able to either buy it in person from a bookstore or order it online I will be doing so!

I’m excited to see what Gytha has planned for Jonah Sheens and his team in her next book: #3 Lie Beside Me due to be published 16th February 2021! – GJ

#3: Lie Beside Me

Through connecting with authors on Instagram I feel very happy and lucky to be directly sent copies of their books and this was one of those times that receiving bookmail was extra exciting! At the end of #2 Watching From The Dark there was an extract of the first chapter of Lie Beside Me and I was utterly hooked and couldn’t stop thinking about the cliffhanger it ended on. So, when my copy arrived and I started to read on I honestly could not predict which way it was going to go.

The characters in Lie Beside Me are so varied and cover so many social dynamics that it seemed a little like the author had a diversity checklist to tick off, but this is by no means a negative comment, just purely an observation that it’s a fresh, modern story reflecting a complex society where people of all backgrounds and situation can mix and be thrown into a whirlwind murder investigation together.

I constantly flitted between suspicion and sympathy for the main suspect character, but I think this was by design because you naturally assess her decisions based on your own morals and each reader will have a different approach as the storyline expands into addressing many social issues. The plot development along with the detective characters flows so nicely, it really builds and I genuinely enjoy reading her novels because I find them very relatable and realistic.

The layout is formatted like a police procedural thriller so it does involve scenes at the station and in depth information into solving the case but this is interesting to me, but perhaps not to all other thriller readers. I would like to think that there is a book #4 on the way, but I am also intrigued to see if Gytha writes any standalones or book series featuring other characters, I for sure will be buying those too. There’s always room for a Gytha Lodge book to lie beside me on my bedside table. – GJ

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