deadly

Autumn 2004
In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016
A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . .

You know that old adage about the difficult second book? Well, come closer and I’ll let you into a secret. Following Sarah Ward’s compelling debut  In Bitter Chill I’m going to boldly state that this one is even better. There, I’ve said it. Gauntlet thrown down for those foolish enough to challenge me. From the very outset I was completely hooked by this dark, suspenseful tale of Derbyshire folk, so read on and find out why…

What Ward achieves so well in this book is a perfect symmetry between the strength of her plotting and her razor sharp characterisation. The basic twist in the story upon which the whole book is played out is devilishly good, and as a long time crime reader provided a very unique and intriguing premise for a story. Woman reports husband dead. Woman convicted of his murder. Fourteen years later husband turns up dead. Again. Who was the original dead man? Brilliant. As Ward takes us on a darkly disturbing journey between the two timelines of the story, some nasty secrets centring on a string of local sex attacks come to light, flicking on the reader’s empathy switch, and completely immersing us on the dark history that comes to be revealed. Ward’s control of pace and reveal is perfectly realised throughout. With the branching out of other stories focussing on the particular personal relationships of her cast of protagonists, and a frighteningly familiar tale of police incompetence and the lack of sympathy to female victims of crime,  this book adroitly raises these serious issues throughout, but never to the detriment of this being a tautly played out thriller.

Once again, this is an extremely character driven book, and I liked the reprise of the police characters from the first book- DCI Francis Sadler, DS Damien Palmer and the wonderfully feisty DC Connie Childs- and the professional and personal interactions between them. Sadler is still firmly and solidly at the helm, and I liked the way that both Palmer and Childs sometimes resemble recalcitrant teenagers as their personal relationship takes a different turn in this book, and they continue to vie for the professional affection of their boss. There is also a strong cast around them from their under pressure senior commanding officer, Superintendent Dai Llewellyn, gruff pathologist Bill Shields and his assistant Scott, which really shores up the forensic and procedural accuracy of the book as past mistakes rear their ugly head. Equally, Ward carefully explores the sibling relationship between Lena and Kat Gray, and the tensions that arise from the aura of suspected guilt within their family dynamic, and the dangerous ramifications this holds for them both.  Ward again sensitively depicts the fear and emotional vulnerability of Lena as a person in the light of her traumatic experience, balancing this with the turbulent effect that her actions have caused in her sister’s life too, which is a real lynchpin in our engagement as a reader with them.

Great plotting, superb characterisation, the exploration of important issues, and perfectly placed moments of snappy humour make this book a perfect pick up and read. Highly recommended.

Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the  Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. Follow her on Twitter @sarahrward1

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

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