When Detective Constable Connie Childs is dragged from her bed to the fire-wrecked property on Cross Farm Lane she knows as she steps from the car that this house contains death.
Three bodies discovered – a family obliterated – their deaths all seem to point to one conclusion: One mother, one murderer.

But D.C. Childs, determined as ever to discover the truth behind the tragedy, realises it is the fourth body – the one they cannot find – that holds the key to the mystery. What Connie Childs fails to spot is that her determination to unmask the real murderer might cost her more than her health – this time she could lose the thing she cares about most: her career.

I must confess that I have experienced a slight sense of disenchantment with some writers of Derbyshire set crime of late, but Sarah Ward has proved to be as refreshing as a window suddenly opening in an airless room. Having previously reviewed, and enjoyed, In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw it is no exaggeration to say that Ward is honing her writing more and more with each book, and has just produced, in my opinion, the best of the series to date in A Patient Fury

The first aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was the undercurrent of darkness that undercuts the whole book. The central plot is exceedingly grim, with the crime of murder/suicide of a family laying at the heart of this twisted morality tale. The unconscionable act of a child’s murder strikes the investigation team particularly hard, and the initial suspicion of the mother being guilty of this crime sits uneasily with the fictional protagonists, and us as readers too. I thought the plotting was superb as the book is permeated by small twists, and teasing reveals, the instances of which are perfectly placed in terms of narrative pace, and to increase the suspense. As the net is cast wider to include other relations of this family, Ward plays with our perceptions of each protagonist, and invites us to engage in our own crime solving, as the police team grapple with this particularly tricky investigation. I thought the whole premise of the crime, and the conclusion to it, was entirely realistic, and I enjoyed the way that it unashamedly approached the very real issues of child abandonment, familial abuse, and brought to the fore the varying degrees of emotional intelligence that the members of this family exhibited. With all the elements of a soap opera, but infinitely better written, it certainly kept this reader fully engaged.

Obviously being three books into a series, there is an added enjoyment at my now familiarity with the two main police protagonists of D.I. Francis Sadler, and D.C. Connie Childs, and the way that Ward pushes their personal stories and tribulations onwards. In particular, Connie, still recovering from events in the previous books, is put through the wringer further in terms of her professional behaviour in relation to this case, and her own insecurities as a single woman. I like her character very much, admiring both her tenacity, impetuousness and those small moments of fragility that suddenly appear. Likewise, Sadler is not immune to moments of self doubt and sometimes blindness, both in his treatment of Connie, and his involvement with a face from the past. Ward balances this growth in their characters in parallel to the main plot with an assured touch, leading the story off in different directions, but never to the detriment of the reader’s involvement in the central investigation.

Ward draws heavily on the atmosphere and surrounds of her Derbyshire setting, bringing the area alive to the reader’s imagination, and using the unique landscape of the area as a rich texture to the human drama that plays out. Coupled with the strong, perfectly placed plotting, the examination of human frailty, and her innate talent for realistic characterisation, I found A Patient Fury a hugely satisfying read, and would urge you to discover this series for yourselves. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

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