I really enjoyed our first outing with Jenifry (Jen) Shaw so I jumped at the chance to read the second outing for this daring and independent woman. Jen is taking time off to go climbing and has chosen Alajar, Spain as her destination, drawn in by a mysterious postcard showing a bar with decorative cork tiles on the ceiling. We met the shadowy undercover police officer Nick back in Cornwall and in the brief time they met their combined skills kept each other alive. There was also a connection between them that couldn’t be explored due to Nick being pulled straight back into another case. So when the postcard arrives with ‘wish you were here’ as the only message, Jen decides to take a chance and find the bar hoping this might be the right time to connect properly. Their time is limited though and it’s not long before Nick is off on another case. Jen does have a family issue to sort out though. Her brother has called in a panic to say that their father is planning to sell the family farm in Cornwall and the only person who can stop him is their mother. As usual their mother is elsewhere and not easy to contact, apparently teaching yoga to refugees in Malta. Jen takes advantage of Nick’s absence to fly to Malta in the hope of explaining to her mother what she needs to do to save the farmhouse where Jen and her brother grew up.
When Jen arrives though, her mother seems to be in the middle of a crisis with a family of refugees. The mother Nahla is an old friend of Morwenna’s and she’s with her two children Aya and Rania in a state of distress. This links back to a heart stopping prologue where we see that Nahla’s husband has been killed in Libya and the family have fled the country in a boat bound for Malta. Aya is so traumatised that she’s silent and both Rania and her mother are displaced and shellshocked by their experience. Now they’re forced into a refugee camp where disease, crime and trafficking are rife and no one can be trusted. Jen knows her mother and there’s no point trying to bring Morwenna’s mind back to home when she’s on a crusade. Jen’s now committed to helping Morwenna bring her friend and her daughters out of the refugee camp and settle them into a new home. The story is both heart stopping and heart rending. The author knows exactly how to pace her story with thrilling, fast paced set pieces followed by periods of calm that gave me chance to breath and think about what’s just happened. The scene with the fire in the clinic on the refugee camp had me gritting my teeth with anxiety, as Jen desperately tries to save those inside through the roof. Jen’s climbing skills are always at the forefront of the action and I trust her skills, but a part when she’s having to free climb a cliff with a complete novice was nail-bitingly tense.
The Maltese setting is fascinating with a sharp contrast between the picturesque streets with bougainvillea cascading prettily from the walls and the squalor of the camp. The distance between the Malta of the tourist trail and the Malta of those who arrive in the trafficker’s boats is vast. Morwenna is living across the two worlds, set up in a beautiful home with her lover Peter but entering the camp every day to teach yoga and help out at the clinic. The desperation of the refugees is made very clear and the way the traffickers ruthlessly exploit that desperation is horrifying. Nahla expects their escape from Libya to be uncomfortable and frightening, but she doesn’t expect their belongings to be discarded, to be forced into fighting others to make sure her and her children are on the boat, or to have her youngest child Aya hit when she can’t help but cry. Aya’s behaviour from there on is that of a deeply traumatised child, who automatically folds herself into tiny spaces without complaint knowing not to make a sound until she’s told to come out of hiding. Both girls are so vulnerable, clinging to the only person they recognise and so open to exploitation. It is difficult for Jen to get to the bottom of who is behind trafficking from the Maltese camp and when it becomes clear that secret services are also embedded in the camp it becomes even more complex. They have an entirely separate agenda, trying to separate potential terrorists using large movements of people from the Middle East and North Africa to slip into the UK undetected.
Jen is even more of a force to be reckoned with in this second novel and seems surprised at the connection she makes with Nahla’s daughter, particularly Rania. She’s more than an equal for those refugees stirring up trouble in the camp and her fitness skills mean she can escape many tense situations, but there were times when I was very worried. Her urge to protect the girls left her very vulnerable at times, luckily there was help from others but there were a couple of occasions when this was resolved by coincidences that stretched my credibility a little. Despite that I understood why the author had made those choices, for the development of other aspects of the story. Overall this was a page turning thriller, with a heroine I really enjoyed spending more time with.
Published by Verve 28th Feb 2023
Meet the Author
Jane Jesmond writes crime, thriller and mystery fiction. Her debut novel, On The Edge, the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw was a Sunday Times Crime Fiction best book. The second in the series, Cut Adrift, will be published in Feb 2023, and A Quiet Contagion, an unsettling historical mystery for modern times, in Nov 2023. Although she loves writing (and reading) thrillers and mysteries, her real life is very quiet and unexciting. Dead bodies and dangerous exploits are not a feature. She lives by the sea in the northwest tip of France with a husband and a cat and enjoys coastal walks and village life. Unlike her daredevil protagonist, she is terrified of heights!