Bergen & Street Art

Happy Monday-ing (and thank goodness it’s over!) To start the week I thought I’d post some street art – always puts a smile on my face, and makes me keep an eye out for more in the rest of the week!

One of the things I always keep an eye out for (aside from bookshops and libraries!) when I’m in another country is street art, because it’s such a beautiful universal thing which you don’t need to know the language for. Below is some street art which my husband and I found while we were in Bergen, Norway last year, which caught my eye because of some of the messages in the pictures – I think my favourite is the one with a panda and it’s mobile phone though!

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We Are London

I have written before on my thoughts on the senselessness of violence against innocent citizens, and it’s pretty upsetting that nothing seems to have changed since then – the horrible attacks on people in London has led to an emotional couple of days – anger, worry, heartbreak and fear. I really hate that as soon as something like this happens, so many of my friends, family and I all brace for the inevitable backlash against Muslims, the same fear that we will be grouped with this tragic violence and that we tarred with same the same brush that puts us with something that we don’t believe in.

So this is me, saying this is not my faith. We have said this before and we’ll say it again. Islam doesn’t work like this and we don’t believe or condone any form of terror attacks like this. We are with London, and will remain strong, united and unafraid. London is our home. This is the city where I have had the honour to meet the most diverse and vibrant people from all walks of life and communities, and have found that unity is always better despite coming from different backgrounds.

So I say it is  now, more than every that it’s the time to stand up and speak out against the hate, ignorance and violence perpetuated by some groups, and that to isolate ourselves is not the answer. It is only this which will get us through bad times and remain strong – standing together as friends, a people and as a beautiful nation.

My prayers are with all those who have lost their loved ones: may Allah (SWT) give them the strength to bear what he has tested them with, shower them with his mercy and let their hearts find peace. May Allah (SWT) bring peace and safety to us all.

“…if any one killed a soul, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…” – The Holy Quran (Chapter Five, Verse 32).

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King

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The Beautiful Colours of Istanbul

Hubby and I have been reminiscing over the beautiful things we saw in Istanbul (a sign that we need a new holiday), and it made me think that there’s so much of the countries and cities I have been to which have so many hidden, beautiful parts. There’s a lot of iconic landmarks like the Haga Sofia and Blue Mosque, the Basicilica Cisterns and Topkapi Palace which are of course, a must-visit. But there’s hundreds of other things you can find when you take yourself off the beaten tourist track. One of my favourite memories is walking through winding alleys, past blocks of flats with clothes-lines stretched across the street above us, and bridges and stairs until we found some beautiful rainbow stairs. It was the fact that along the way we saw a lot of beautiful places, which felt so much more real than the tourist spots – grafitti supporting Palestine, the ordinary public on their way to the markets, street-sellers selling cheap handbag replicas and lots of beautiful flowers, buildings and decor.

So here are my top 9 favourite, most colourful photos, each with an accompanying colourful memory. There’s a story behind each photo so make sure you hover over each square to read it!

 

The Mountains of Bergen: Mount Fløyen & Mount Ulriken

One of the main reasons my husband and I went to Norway a few weeks ago (apart from the beautiful views!) was the fact that it’s a great place for hiking and climbing mountains. Bergen has seven mountains surrounding the city, so there were ample opportunities to explore the mountains and do some hiking. My husband is pretty passionate about walking around natural spaces and has always loved climbing mountains and through peaceful woods, so we were both pretty excited to try something different on holiday and explore Bergen’s two most popular mountains – Mount Fløyen and Mount Ulriken.

Mount Fløyen

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Due to Mount Floyen being quite a popular mountain, the roads up to Mount Floyen always have tourists and residents strolling up or down the mountain, and there were also trams travelling to and from the mountains for those who wanted the stress-free rides. We decided to take the tram or the Floibanen up to the mountains to explore, and then take the scenic route and walk back down again to the city later.

Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, we were able to see an extraordinary view of the city, which was pretty breathtaking, where we sat and enjoyed the view for a little while. There was also a lovely little coffee top for tea and cake in this area, where a lot of families gathered outside to enjoy the food and breathe in the fresh, cool air.

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Although this view was pretty amazing, we were able to keep walking from this area further upwards towards the top of the mountain, where we walked though beautiful paths and plenty of woodland areas. My husband and I had a lot of fun walking through the woods and being silly, although admittedly we were both pretty out of breath from climbing uphill after a while and needed to rest – pretty embarrassing after seeing a lot of people stroll past easily, clearly used to climbing the mountain every day!

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One of my favourite parts of this mountain is this man-made trail that we found in the middle of nowhere, which we followed to a small clearing with seating to rest and little notes with a game. I forgot to take pictures of the signs here, but it was a nice little find for us in the middle of a huge forest. There’s something a little haunting and eerie about the picture below (maybe I’ve seen too many horror films in the woods!), but really this was a really peaceful, fun place and we managed to run around the trees and explore a little before moving on.

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We carried on walking and followed a path to find a big beautiful lake, which was pretty empty, apart from a family of ducks which didn’t take any notice of us! We sat here for a little while to rest, and enjoyed the peaceful view before walking around a little more, and even found a small cabin on the side of the lake (we didn’t go in though because it was private. And locked.)

We weren’t able to to get to the top of the mountain but we were pretty happy with what we had seen, and were also a little tired, so after this we headed back down towards the city, and made plans for the next mountain hike!

Mount Ulriken

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After climbing down from Mount Floyen and taking a short break in city (and having something to eat!), hubster and I decided to tackle the much larger Mount Ulriken which involves more hilly areas, steep roads and and higher peaks which we wanted to explore.

We took a tour bus to the entrance of the mountain (I say entrance, it’s more like the roads which lead into the mountain) which we later regretted because the tour bus journey was pretty short and very expensive!

Unfortunately we weren’t able to take the cable cars (called Ulriken Express) across to the peaks of the mountain, which I was really looking forward to, due to the high winds and the cold weather. We did managed to walk around for a little while though and spot some memorable sights including this beautiful waterfall below. I really wanted to try some of the water from this waterfall but it was at an awkward location which seemed a little dangerous, so we stopped to take pictures and ooh-and-ahh at the fresh, cool air instead.

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We also did a little more hiking through this mountain, although we weren’t able to access a lot of it without the cable-cars taking us to the top. We also found this mountain a lot less busier than Mount Floyen which had more families and tourists, while this mountain was for the more serious hikers and explorers.

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We had a really fun (and tiring!) day exploring mountains in Bergen, which we found very refreshing. I have mentioned before how wonderful it is to find a place like Norway which has so many natural landscape scenes – mountains, forest, lakes and snowy peaks, and we certainly found all of these in Floyen and Ulriken. I think in future I’d love to be more adventurous and try some rock-climbing or scaling, although I think I’d need to be a little fitter to try these!

I’ll leave you with a funny sign-post we found in Mount Floyen (there’s lots all over) which made me laugh, Norwegians love their trolls and monsters and this was just one more on the list!

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Beautiful Bergen – Part 2

While staying in Bergen we managed to see quite a lot of sites in the few days that we stayed there, and tried to make the most of the long days and various attractions. One of the things which really struck my husband and myself was how well-spoken the Norwegian citizens are, and also how healthy and fit they seem – we spoke to several inhabitants who told us about regular walks up and down the mountain, the beautiful fresh air and various fresh fish they had for meals which was caught by the wharf.

There’s quite a few things which stood out for me in Bergen, so I’ll list some of my favourite below – let me know what you think of these!

Bergenhus Fortress, Rosenkrantz Tower & Haakon’s Hall
One of the things I was looking forward to seeing in Bergen was the historical sites, which were medieval buildings which go back as far as the 13th century. Begenhus Fortress is mainly the hall (Haakon’s Hall) and the Rosenkrant Tower (which is an old keep which used to have dungeons), which ares apparently a throwback to the Viking days, although the Hall was properly used for weddings and feasts from the 13th century. We didn’t get to see inside the Hall because we arrived too late, but we did get to wander around the grounds which we loved (and you can see the inside of the Hall here), where there were plenty of old structures, statues and large walkways to explore.

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Statues
There are several statues around the city of Bergen, which can be found in various spots, some of which are a commentary on society, with a certain message from the artist. The most memorable one was this hidden away, nameless statue of a homeless person below, which is apparently the most photographed statue in the city – it is meant to make the viewer think about why it is there and what it means. There are also several statue tributes to Norwegian historical figures – generals, presidents and well-loved figures whose images are around the city with plaques and scripts. There was one which always made me jump every time I saw it, because I kept thinking it was a real person – it was a statue of a young girl (below) at the corner of a doorway to a McDonalds restaurant – it catches your attention from the corner of your eye and makes you think there is someone standing there waiting for a friend!

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The Bookcafe
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I love quirky libraries and bookshops – I make it a point to look out for beautiful bookstores while abroad and haven’t been disappointed yet! It took me a while to find a pretty bookstore like this one, as I saw a few scattered in different areas but some were shut, and the others were not very memorable. I found this one the day before we left Bergen, with beautiful decoration, hanging books, scripts on walls and seating inside which showed it was a cafe for people to read and relax.

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Town square
I’ve already written about the town square, which is surrounded by colourful hotels and restaurants, and further along the high street you come to the more modern part of the street, which is a street lined with designer shops, and has a giant water-feature with a sort of stone obelisk in the middle, with carvings and statues on it. I loved the carvings along the stone faces of this landmark, it seems to show the story of settlers and Viking boats travelling to new places, as well as various religious pictures which seem to be a big feature with Norwegian history. Similarly, the statues were all dressed in different eras to reflect the different centuries, which looked great.

Anne Madam
One of the biggest problems my husband and I found was the expense of the food – a lot of the normal restaurants ended up costing around £30-40 per person for a normal meal, and even the usual burger-chains like Burger King and McDonalds were pricier than we expected – more than they cost in the UK! Luckily, we managed to find a new restaurant which had opened a few days after our arrival, and which was offering traditional Norwegian food at a discounted price. The traditional food in Bergen is mainly various types of fish, since it is a fishing town, so naturally we wanted to try some, and managed to get some at Anne Madame, which is in the heart of the city opposite the wharf. This plate is a traditional hake and potato pieces which were given with a light tartar sauce and coleslaw, and which was delicious – we loved it enough to come back here again before we left!

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Things to look out for
We went to Bergen in the first week of May, which is  one of the warmest months to visit, and the start of the tourist season – so there is plenty of things happening for tourists to see. We were lucky enough to see a drummer’s parade going through the town (I love the sound of loud drums, it always makes me want to dance!), and found plenty of quirky shops like a moose shop (below), a troll shop (the trolls are not the cute 90s kind but uglier ones!) and shops with beautiful hand-crafted goods and clothes. We also saw a lot of beautiful buildings, mixed against a backdrop of green mountains and beautiful lakes, which made it a really peaceful place to spend the day.

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All in all, my husband and I loved the beauty of Bergen – it is one of those places where you feel like there is every natural beautiful landscape to be found. A friend of mine visited Oslo recently, and complained that it was less beautiful than Bergen – there are most commercial buildings, more lights and less colour, and I certainly agree – there is a lot of beautiful colour and nature to be found in this city.

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Beautiful Bergen – Part 1

Bergen, Norway is one of those places which seems to have everything – beautiful architecture, the sea, mountains, forests and plenty of history. We landed (after a quick 1.5 hour flight!) in Bergen and took a bus to the city centre, where there was plenty of hustle and bustle, among colourful houses, a beautiful harbour and plenty of street art everywhere.

Below are just a few memorable places in the city, we had a few days to explore and pretty much did everything on my itinery (and more!), and loved how colourful everything look.

Bryggen
‘Bryggen’ litterally means ‘wharf’ in Norwegian, and is one of the most iconic places in Bergen – a row of colourful houses along the harbour where plenty of boats and ships dock. Most of these buildings along here are museums and shops, but they are a great place to sit and relax, and look amazing at night. I didn’t manage to get a decent picture of the lights in Bryggen at night because the first few nights we stayed they weren’t switched on (and it poured with rain all night) and the next few nights we didn’t go out late enough – sunsets were around 10.30pm and it wasn’t properly dark until after 11pm!

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You can walk around inside the harbour as well – there’s plenty of old buildings and staircases to explore, with shops, restaurants and museums hidden away. We had great fun exploring these, it was nice to see such old buildings still being maintained – Bergen itself is nearly a millenium in age, and the buildings have been there for about four centuries and more.

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And there’s also a wishing well to look out for, although this is mainly gated off (probably a good thing too, I remember the well in my grandparent’s house in Pakistan having to be barricaded off after a few people fell in the dark without looking where they were going!)

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The Town Square
The town square is a busy meeting place, often filled with market stalls, stops for buses and coaches and surrounded by colourful buildings and restaurants. While staying here we often came to this point to get to other parts of the city, meeting plenty of other tourists, as well as stopping for lunch, dinner or a quick cup of coffee (the Starbucks is in a huge Gothic-style building). This is also at the foot of one mountain (there’s seven mountains in the city altogether) as well at the edge of the high street, which felt like a fun mix of history versus modern, old city and the new.

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Fishmarket
Pretty much self-explanatory, this was a market to buy fresh fish and also get it cooked to eat if you wished to sit down and enjoy a meal. Bergen being a fishing-town, there’s a big demand for fish and a big range of sea-food, as well as tanks of live lobsters, crabs and fish to boggle at!

St Marys Church
I was pretty keen to visit this place, as it is Bergen’s oldest building. We didn’t get a chance to catch a service inside as we arrived too late, but I was amazed at how well-maintained this building is for a building which was built around 1130s. Of course it has been renovated a few times since then, but it’s still a very striking looking building which looks very impressive.

Things to look out for
There’s a lot to see in this city, and a lot of it can be found simply by wandering around Bergen and exploring. I loved this pavilion below, situated opposite an old government building which both looked very striking. We also saw plenty of beautiful flower shops which made me want to buy some to take home (I didn’t because they’d probably be shrivelled by the time I got on our plane!) and also quirky junk shops which were worth exploring. I also loved the fact that from wherever you stand you can see the beautiful houses on the hill, the huge mountains and plenty of art and decor everywhere.

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There’s so many memorable things about this country (apart from the gorgeous colourful houses!) – one things which really struck me was how fresh and clean the air felt – you don’t appreciate it until you get away from a smog-polluted city like London, away from congestion and busy skyscrapers and go to a beautiful place like Bergen. There’s an abundance of greenery, the water feels unbelievably clean, and there’s beauty in almost building, from beautiful arches and doors to the street art lining the street.

More to come, but one of my favourite lines from my husband about this holiday was “the WiFi here is amazing!” – and it really is!

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Honeymoon Travels… Beautiful Bergen, Norway

My husband and I have been wanting to get away for a while now, so when we finally got the chance to book something, we thought we’d go for something a little different to the usual sea-and-sand holidays. My husband is an avid nature-lover, and loves the big wide open with mountains, greenery, forests and lakes, and it’s always been his dream (or on his bucket list, at least!) to climb high up enough on the mountains to see the snow.

So this week we packed a bunch of jumpers and hiking boots, some woolly socks (him) and plenty of sunglasses and lipsticks (me) and made our first trip to Norway, to a tiny little beautiful, colourful town called Bergen. It’s a picturesque town with seven mountains (we didn’t climb all of them, we’re not that fit!) surrounded by beautiful waterfalls and fjords with very long names, and plenty of forests to explore.

I won’t overload you with the pictures (although I did take about a thousand on my DSLR camera!) but I will post my favourite bits – Norway is unlike any country I’ve been to before and it was certainly a memorable trip. For now here is Bryggen (Norwegian for Wharf), the old boat harbour which is lined with colourful houses and lots of boats, and one of the most iconic places in Bergen : )

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One minute’s silence

Today we had a minute’s silence at work for the attacks in Brussels, which was a horrible, unjustified event only a few days ago. It made me feel sad and a little pessimistic because we did the same thing in the office after the attacks in Paris not so long ago – a minute to reflect on events and pray for the lost victims, and hope that world events get better, that there are no more attacks, no more anger and no more twisting of beliefs to perpetuate more unreasonable violence.

It also made me sad, however, because there was no minute silence for Palestine, Turkey, Syria or various parts of Africa. You may think I am biased because many of these are Muslim countries, and this is why I feel affinity to them, and of course there is a part of me which does. There have been several attacks in Turkey in recent weeks, air strikes in Syria and on-going violence in parts of Africa such as Nigeria quite recently which have been ignored or sidelined, and which is pretty upsetting. But having grown up in a Western society, I also feel an affinity to Europe, to Britain, and it is more than my Muslim heritage speaking here. One of the things Islam teaches us is kindness to everyone, empathy and respect for all others, and as a human being it is natural to feel compassion whenever there are attacks on fellow people in any country. Naturally, the spotlight right now is being turned on refugees who are arriving all over Europe and who are homeless, scared and trying to protect themselves and their families. While there has been a lot of welcome for them, there is also a lot of resentment about whether they should be entitled to help and whether they are simply bringing the ‘enemy’ with then,

I’m sure I am not the first one to point out that all of the refugees arriving around Europe will be tarred with the same brush – when in fact it is these mindsets and violent groups that the fleeing refugees are trying to get away from. It makes me think back to my parent’s generation who arrived in the 70s and 80s, and even that ‘Windrush generation’ of the 50s, who came from across the world to Europe (and Britain) to make a new life and were treated with contempt and hostility by those who didn’t understand them, or those who believed the worst and didn’t trust them. It has taken a long time for these generations of incomers to build lives, trust and a place within this society, and it is attacks like this which can make immigrant groups feel unwelcome and undermined.

It is easy to be afraid. It is harder to stand up for what you believe in even when you are afraid, yet you stand up anyway. A part of me wonders whether there will be a time when we don’t have to worry about attacks like these. Maybe I’m naive, living in a modern age such as we do now, the horrors of war, hate and anger seem far away because we think we have evolved our minds and relationships since the World Wars, Civil Wars and battles for Independence which have taken place all over the world.

I do not mean to belittle the victims of Brussels or Paris, nor imply that what has happened is not a serious issue, because it is. I’m hoping we can learn from these to understand the hate behind these attacks and make sense of the senseless violence, so that it makes it easier for us to deal with. I am a strong believer of the idea that we can show Islam is not a hateful religion, and that those who twist it for their own agendas are not acting on our behalf. My point here, I suppose is the idea of fairness, while we are devastated by what has happened in Brussels recently, we should be equally outraged by the events in the Eastern countries. At the risk of making this a slightly hippy-fied post, in the end we are all people and we should share our prayers and compassion with everyone.

Writing on the Wall: Currencies of the World

…all on one board. I found this in a little deli hidden away on Green Street, East London, which the proprietor had displayed on the wall, probably to show the different type of customers and currencies he has come across.

I loved how this looked on the wall, a mish-mash of colours, cultures and odd bits all lined up together to form a small piece of art to catch your eye (and probably to remind you to pay for your food!)

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The Murder of Snow White

“Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony and lips as red as blood.”

At first glance, Nele Neuhaus’ bestselling novel now Snow White Must Die seems to be a typical thriller, one full of tense narrative, dramatic conspiracies and elaborate wrongdoings – and I suppose, in a way, it is. But there is nothing of the American, stylized, sensational thriller in this novel – it’s dark , mysterious and depressing, but it’s also very human, and has nothing of the cold, easy solutions wrapped up in the usual whodunnits.

Translated from Neuhaus’ native German, the story issnowwhitemustdie one that creeps up on you as you get deeper into it, and the narrative trickles into several voices and characters, with a few sub-plots, different timelines, flash-backs which are seen in different perspectives, as well as a twisting storyline which is actually quite believable.

I’ll admit, I love my murder mysteries and thrillers, although a lot of the ones I seem to read these days are either junk-book-style or good ole’ Agatha Christy, who, as much as I love her , becomes a little predictable once you’ve read all of her books (it’s never the butler who did it, it’s usually the secretary).

Set in a small village in present-day Germany, the plot begins with a tragedy that has already taken place a decade earlier. Newly-released from prison, Tobias Sartorius returns to his home town after serving eleven years in prison for the conviction of murdering two girls, the beautiful Stefanie, dubbed Snow White, and ex-girlfriend Laura, both missing in mysterious circumstances which no one, including Tobias himself, have ever figured out. The bodies of both girls have never been found, and the village has never quite recovered from the shadows of the murder, shaping the inhabitants in ways which have changed them.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff and DS Oliver von Bodenstein are in charge of a new case, that of a discovery of some bones dug up in a nearby quarry, thus re-opening suspicions about what really happened on the night of the double homicide. As the village inhabitants close ranks and remain tight-lipped about what they know, and the atmosphere in the tight-knit community becomes more and more strained, it becomes apparent that there is a something much more complicated going on, and suspicions that perhaps Tobias isn’t really the guilty party. Through random acts of violent, heartbreaking revenge, the false veneers of the deceiving behaviour of the villagers, and the arrival of a young girl called Amelie (who resembles the missing Snow White), it is clear that although Tobias has served his time, there are still plenty of secrets leftover, and plenty of people willing to go far to keep them.

Nele Nauhaus’ book has taken the book world by storm, and after reading it, I wasn’t surprised it had. I initially thought this was going to be a typical, dumbed-down mystery, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t – if anything, it twists several strands of genres to be more than just a typical murder mystery. It reminded me also of popular Danish series The Killing, a gritty, depressing and well-written drama which also follows several characters in the aftermath of murder. Snow White Must Die is similar in style, and in successfully creating an atmosphere which stays long after the book has ended. As one reviewer put very well, “Neuhaus is terrific at creating the complex claustrophobia of a village where the same families have lived for generations” – there’s a real sense of right and wrong being muddied, and loyalties being blurred and confused.

What I loved most about this book is that it evokes an era unique to the village and to German culture – I’m used to very English settings, American pop culture and even the usual fast-pace of thrillers and murder mysteries – but this is different, showing the livelihoods of the villagers, the close-knit community and the law and justice in this village. The end of this novel leaves the reader thinking about not only the butterfly effect of one night which ripples out into the present; but also the fact that there’s no clichéd concept of the ‘hero’ and the ‘villain’, all have been touched and damaged by the tragedy, and all have to confront the truth when it is revealed. It is certainly a good read, and one which draws you into the lives of more than one character, but it may not appeal to everyone – it is gritty and it is depressing, and there is no easy solution at its end. It draws home the fact that there is a petty, ugly side to everyone, that in the ordinary and mundane there can also be jealousy, deceit and misplaced loyalty which can  lead to something more sinister. I would definitely recommend this as something to try even if you don’t usually read murder mysteries – the characters will draw you in and there’s even a slight touch of The Count of Monte Cristo about it which resonates.