tomIf, like me, you felt a sense of loss at the close of Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy (Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent 6) I may have found something to ease our collective troubled souls. A Killing Winter is a hard-hitting and not to be missed thriller from debut crime novelist Tom Callaghan, that transports the reader to the harsh and unforgiving landscape Kyrgyzstan…

When Inspector Akyl Borubaev of the Bishkek Murder Squad is called to the brutal murder scene of a young woman, all the evidence points towards a sadistic serial killer on the hunt for more victims. But when the young woman’s father is revealed as a leading government minister, the pressure is on Borubaev to solve the case not only quickly but also quietly by any means possible. Until more bodies are found. Still in mourning after the recent death of his beloved wife, Chinara, Borubaev descends into Bishkek’s brutal underworld where violence is the only solution. And so begins a thriller that is by turns sordid, violent and yet powerfully emotive that I guarantee will keep you reading..and reading..and reading…

This book contains a number of stand-out features, most notably the author’s assured use of what to many is probably a relatively unknown location. Not only does he convey to the reader the inhospitable climate of this region, where the cold really seeps into your imagination when reading, but also the socio-economic make-up of this former Soviet enclave. It is populated by a cast of characters from both ends of the social spectrum, from the desperate day-to-day existence of the local prostitutes, to those inhabiting the higher echelons of power and the rewards this reaps. Somewhere in the middle stands our dogged detective Borubaev, a man of strong moral stature, manipulated by not only his police superior, but by the wider influence of the political sphere. As the story progresses, we gain valuable insight into the troubled history of this region, and the political machinations over the ownership of the country, and how Borubaev becomes firmly enmeshed in these warring factions.

Borubaev is an intriguing character, who pivots between an unerring toughness underscored by some emotive chinks in his armour, revealed by the references to his bereavement following the death of his wife. His emotional attachment to her memory is truly moving, and the way in which his memory of her fuels his actions, “I wanted to think of her as an unseen presence, spurring me on, watching from the sidelines”, where we feel his sense of loss consistently throughout, added to by an emotive revelation at the close of the book. Throughout the course of the investigation, he always fights for the victims, and despite the sheer physical harm that is meted out on him, his dedication to justice is embodied in his every action. I liked him very much indeed.

The plot itself proved incredibly satisfying with some nice red herrings, and reveals along the way, strengthened by the tough and unrelenting sordidness of both the language and the violence. This is not a book for the more squeamish reader, but the brutal nature of the plot worked extremely well overall. It’s rough, tough and blunt-speaking, but with the emotional counterpoint, as previously mentioned in Borubaev’s private life, works exceptionally well as a whole. A Killing Winter is a brilliant debut, and an early contender for one of my top reads of the year I feel.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

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