As regular visitors to my blog are aware I do like my crime fiction to be served up from an unusual perspective every now and again and so when, I came across a fantast spotlight post written about this book on Confessions of a Mystery Novelist which not only indicated it was UK crime but that the setting was in part at least within a woman’s prison, oh and the chief protagonist is a nun, I had to investigate more closely. If you haven’t come across Margot’s blog before now and you enjoy crime fiction, you really do owe it to yourself to pay a visit.
The Dying Light is actually the fifth in Alison Joseph’s Sister Agnes series and although it was clear while reading the book there was possibly some background to Agnes herself that is pertinent to who she is, it didn’t in any way distract from the main story.
The story is on the surface at least, a simple one. One of the women in the prison is told her father has been murdered, not only that but the suspect is the young woman’s boyfriend, the man she was hoping to return to on her imminent release and turn over her new leaf. Everyone assumes the crime is drugs related but Cally is convinced that her boyfriend Mal is innocence, and asks Sister Agnes for help.
The mystery takes us to the dark world of crime but one with a very human face. I am usually a reader who is turned off by reading about in-fighting amongst villains or gangs but because of the way the way this is presented I was as keen as Agnes to understand why Mal would have turned on Cliff.
It helps that Agnes is quite unlike the nun personae that I expected. She’s a young woman, very devoted I’d say not so much to her faith but to doing the right thing. She has her own struggles of course, during this book, her mother is very ill and there are calls from her native France for her to return to see her matched by a reluctance from Agnes to do so. Is she, as her friends suspect, using the struggles of the women in the prison where she works a front for avoiding her own problems?
It is hard for a writer to truly transport anyone to an unfamiliar setting but I thought that Alison Joseph chose key points of prison life that her readers could easily imagine to draw us through into a building which is full of despair, and violence along with some hope for a better future. The power struggles between the women, and those in charge of them, was realistically but not overdramatised skilfully recreating the atmosphere.
I’d say that The Dying Light is a book that had me thinking about some of the issues it raised almost as much as the mystery itself. That isn’t to say this is a book you can only enjoy if you are religious, far from it, what it does is bridge the gap between the religious and the philosophical whilst never forgetting that its prime purposes is to entertain the reader.