Oracle by Julie Anderson #BookReview

Near the ancient Temple of Apollo, young idealists protest at a European governmental conference. Inside, business lobbyists mingle with lawmakers, seeking profit and influence. Then the charismatic leader of the protest goes missing.

The next day a body is discovered, placed like an offering to the gods. One day later a recent, broken corpse is found at the foot of the cliffs from where blasphemers were once tossed to their deaths.

As a storm closes in and strange lights are seen on the mountain, power at the conference centre is cut off and all are isolated. No one trusts anyone else. Is a killer stalking the corridors? Or are primal forces reaching out from the past? Like the cryptic Oracle of Delphi, Cassandra Fortune must supply the answer before the conference is over.

And before more die.

It's such a pleasure to be sharing my Publication Day review of Oracle by Julie Anderson today. Congratulations, Julie and thank you for my advance copy of the book.

Plague, the first novel in Julie Anderson's Cassandra Fortune series was one of my top books of 2020 and so I had high expectations for its sequel, Oracle. Following the dramatic events in the previous story, Cassandra has now moved on from her role working in procurement for the Deputy Prime Minister's Office and is now an envoy for the Prime Minister himself.

Fittingly for a woman named Cassandra, her first assignment is in Delphi where she has been tasked with securing a visit to London by the Greek Finance Minister, Theo Sidaris for some off-the-record conversations about taxation reform. As with Plague, the novel is engagingly authentic despite this being a slightly altered version of reality. Here, for example the PM is David Hurst but this Britain still needs to rebuild its relations with its European neighbours and an alliance with Greece - soon to hold the Presidency of the European Council - will go some way in the country reasserting its influence.

Politics lies at the heart of the story, at local, national and international levels but it never overwhelms proceedings, forming an illuminating backdrop without ever becoming too dense. Nevertheless, as Cassie finds herself confronting what may be her own personal Greek Tragedy, it is impossible to ignore the political considerations which both aid and obstruct her investigation into two violent deaths.

The murder of a young local woman, whose body is discovered in the ancient temple is closely followed by the death of a visiting academic. The opposition, particularly the Far-Right party Golden Dawn, which still boasts members in a number of institutions including the police force, will inevitably seek to make capital from the tragedies occurring at the same time a controversial, left-of-centre politician is in town and so it's entirely understandable why the authorities should ask - or rather insist - that Cassie assist with the investigation. The presence of climate change activists further confuses the case and with visitors and locals in the town all having different agendas, the mystery becomes increasingly tangled.

Cassie is clearly reluctant to be involved, especially as she is still obviously bearing the deep emotional scars of recent events in London. It's worth pointing out here that while it's not necessary to have read Plague, as Julie Anderson includes enough of her backstory to bring new readers up to speed, I would recommend reading the series in order if possible as there are definite spoilers from the first book. Her  terrifying experience continues to haunt her, especially after she receives what can only be construed as a sinister warning. She is rapidly becoming one of my favourite characters; she is still an enigma whose fall from grace from a previous position remains unexplained, both to her and to readers. However, despite her flaws - she can be impetuous, thoughtless and perhaps a bit frosty - she is fascinating and actually really quite likeable. Throughout the novel, readers are given an insight into her inner thoughts which reveals that she often regrets her choice of words and is more sensitive than she may first appear.

Julie Anderson's exemplary sense of place means Delphi itself becomes almost another character in the novel. The vivid descriptions of the stunning beauty of the town are an absolute treat but this isn't the more usual summery read which might be expected from a book set in Greece. Taking place in November, snow storms threaten evidence while a raging tempest closes the conference centre off, isolating the remaining guests there...perhaps with a killer in their midst.

As the claustrophobic tension grows, Greece's troubled recent political background and its ancient history weighs heavily on the investigation. Though now a democratic nation, its Fascist past means there is a pervading air of suspicion with nobody sure who can be trusted. However, this is a country of contrasts and after Cassie attends a function which ends up becoming almost Bacchanalian, she realises that the old beliefs in prophecies and justice haven't entirely been swept away by modern sensibilities, and the Furies might still cast vengeance on those who incur their wrath.  It's particularly striking that in a country where both the past and present continuously shapes and inform lives, the same could be said of Cassie herself who is equally as damaged and strengthened by her own past. 

 A must-read for anybody who enjoys complex, exciting thrillers which are both highly topical and yet offer intriguing historical comparisons; Oracle is a suspenseful, immersive mystery which more than met my expectations. I was glued to the pages of this chilling, intelligent sequel and have no doubt that the next book in the series, Opera will be just as unmissable.

Oracle is published by Claret Press and can be purchased from their website. It is also available on Amazon or support independent bookshops by ordering directly..

About the Author
After retiring from a successful career in the civil service, Julie Anderson turned her attention to writing. Along with Plague, Julie has authored two children’s novels and a collection of short stories. She is the Chair of Trustees for Clapham Writers, and is one of the creators and organisers of Clapham Book Festival. Plague, has been widely praised and Julie has created a downloadable walking tour guide of the sites in the book.