Cloudland by Joseph Olshan

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Cloudland by Joseph Olshan

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Amrita Dasgupta
Reviewed by Amrita Dasgupta
Summary: A gripping crime thriller which reads like serious literature and it was difficult to tell who the criminal was. Based on an obscure and unfinished Wilkie Collins novel.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 294 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Arcadia Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781906413927

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Although an eclectic reader I have a particular fascination for crime fiction and television crime dramas. It's a hobby of mine to try to deduce who the criminal might be before the fictional detective gets to it. After years of reading Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes I thought I was an expert but Joseph Olshan proved me wrong. I couldn't tell who the killer was and hung onto every word till the end.

Catherine Winslow, a retired investigative journalist, writes household columns for various newspapers while she sits holed up in her house in Vermont. One day, when the winter snow started melting, she discovered a body near her property. The discovery unearthed a series of killings which Catherine and her neighbour a forensic psychiatrist set out to solve.

The story was not just about the crimes committed and the procedures followed, as most of contemporary crime fiction has become. It was about the people, the motley collection of residents and part-time residents of rural Vermont. Olshan's commendable and believable character portraits are what hold the plot together. There are admirable characters that are very human because of the imperfect choices they make. Initially I had feeling that Olshan was fixated with his characters and their stories, while the crime took a back seat, but it all comes together perfectly. His sub-plots are not fictional devices to pace the reader but are pieces of the puzzle, the dramatic build up. His style does not, however, slow down the pace of the novel. With so much happening it will be wise to read the book at one go or within the same week.

The introduction of Wilkie Collins and his obscure novel anchors Cloudland firmly in literature and sets it apart from other contemporary crime fiction. Designing a crime around an obscure Victorian whodunit adds to the intrigue, all the victims are found with religious literature stuffed in their pockets. The subtle inter-textuality of weaving the plot of an unfinished novel into a contemporary crime drama appealed to me greatly. Olshan's Cloudland is a homage to Wilkie Collins and it inspired me to read Moonstone and The Woman in White, the first true detective novels. I am sure a lot of other readers will have the same impulse thus rekindling popularity of Wilkie Collins and establishing Olson's expertise over the genre.

While reading The Woman in White I figured that Cloudland has these vague similarities in scenes and settings. The sudden appearance of the first body, the strength of Catherine’s personality has a touch of Wilkie Collins about them. It is remarkable how a Victorian inspiration set in London can influence modern crime fiction set in Vermont.

What really irked me was that I could find no evidence of the availability of Wilkie Collins' obscure and unfinished novel. Reading that would truly complete my reading of Cloudland. I hope Joseph Olshan keeps up to the high standard he has set in his future novels.

If this book appeals then we think you might also enjoy Drood by Dan Simmons and Wilkie Collins by Peter Ackroyd.

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Buy Cloudland by Joseph Olshan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Cloudland by Joseph Olshan at


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