“Last Refuge” Craig Robertson (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

The Last Refuge

John Callum wakes on a stone slab, used for gutting and preparing fish for the market in a town on the Faroe Islands, with a bloody whaling knife in his hand after a night’s drinking. He knows two things, firstly the blood is not his and secondly he has no memory of what happened between leaving the bar after an argument with his girlfriend’s ex, and waking on the slab. Attempts to retrieve any memories are complicated by unresolved issues and nightmares about a series of violent incidents, including a murder, he left behind in Glasgow. He buries the knife on his way home where he showers before going to bed. When he arrives at work, on time, the next day he discovers his colleagues are all talking about a murder, the first for twenty-five years and the result of a frenzied stabbing with a whaling knife. Due to the rarity of the crime, the local inspector has had to call in a forensic team from Denmark to handle the investigation. The forensic team make John their prime and only suspect, searching for evidence that will convict him. The local inspector would love to solve the crime to score over the forensic team and presents himself as John’s ally, however John knows if he’s not cooperative or the evidence is against him, that allegiance won’t last. Lack of evidence – the heavy rain that night washed most of the evidence away and the case against John is circumstantial – stalls the investigation and buys John chance to investigate on his own and try and remember the events of that night.

The case against John seems simple: he was suspected of violent crimes in Glasgow but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him, he attacked a bullying colleague (in defence of another colleague who was being bullied), he was drunk and there had been an argument which involved some pushing and shoving in the pub. The pub was where the victim was last seen alive. In John’s defence, the victim was an angry, violent man who was deeply unpopular, the victim was stalking John’s girlfriend and had behaved inappropriately towards her in the past (John later uncovers what this inappropriate behaviour was), John’s record is that he only acts in self-defence, he doesn’t start fights and he was not the only person on the islands who had a motive for wanting the victim dead but he is the only person on the islands not in possession of a whaling knife.

Karis, John’s girlfriend, is volatile, an artist with a classic artist temperament. She had made it clear that she did not want a relationship with the victim, Aron Dam, but he forced himself on her, giving her a motive. Karis’s overprotective father, who seems to be permanently angry, warns and threatens John several times about keeping away from his daughter. John and Karis continue to see each other anyway and John presumes her father knows what happened between his daughter and Aron. Aron’s brother, Nils, is friends with a photo-journalist who claims to be working for the National Geographic. John uncovers that Nils had fed the photo-journalist false information connected to a whale hunt. Aron had seen Nils’s actions as a betrayal of the Faroese way of life and the two had an argument which had become a brawl. Like his brother, Nils has a violent temper. John doesn’t trust the photo-journalist but doesn’t know if he’s capable of murder.

Can John reconcile with his past and uncover what happened that fateful night? He doesn’t believe he murdered Aron Dam, but he’s aware that until his memory returns, he can’t be sure. Despite his troubled state, John comes across as very likeable: capable of violence but only when provoked. Generally he tries to do the right thing. The friction between the Danes and Faroese police is realistic and credible. Karis isn’t reduced to artist stereotype She is passionate, capable of being angry one moment and tearful and apologetic the next, but her moods are provoked by circumstance and she has an inner strength. Having resisted her father’s attempts to over-protect her, she reacts in a similar way to Aron Dam’s “protective” instincts. She recognises his behaviour as controlling and possessive but seeks peace rather than revenge. Her father, the conservatively-minded Lutheran minister, is also shown as a caring, respected community man so is more complex than the over-protective father he appears to be at first.

When the Danish police find a witness, John’s race to clear his name is nearly over. When his own life is nearly taken during a whale hunt, John realises he’s closer to the answer than he gave himself credit. However, a false confession threatens to keep him in the frame for murder and he has to fight his own protective instincts so the truth can be revealed. Through John’s journey to clear his name, Craig Robertson has created a thriller that twists along a cliff path with plot twists that, like the Faroe Islands’ mists, could see readers’ theories dashed on the rocks below.


“Cold Grave” Craig Robertson

“Snapshot”~ Craig Robertson

One Response to ““Last Refuge” Craig Robertson (Simon and Schuster) – novel review”

  1. The Last Refuge – Craig Robertson | Novel Heights Says:

    […] Thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another review of this on Emma Lee’s Blog. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: