With its Lake District setting and spooky undercurrents of tales of witches from days of yore, I must confess that I did find this book a mixed bag. I was initially hooked with Grieves seemingly refreshing new take on the slightly overused plot-line of child disappearance, on the back of a truly chilling opening chapter charting a cull of witches in the 17th century. The story then reverts to the present day with the murder of a young boy, and the disappearance of his sister from a tight knit but claustrophobic community in the Lakes. A male/female police combo in the shape of DI Sam Taylor and DC Zoe Barnes, are despatched to investigate, and it quickly becomes clear that this case can be linked conclusively to others around the country, but what is the connecting factor, and are there darker, less explainable, forces at work?
Initially, I was quite engaged the plot, and the adept characterisation of the police protagonists, with my enjoyment of Zoe Barnes’ character in particular, carrying on throughout the book. I liked the way that her loyalties to both her boss, Taylor and to her fellow police officers following the maltreatment of a suspect during a heavy handed arrest, were tested throughout. She was a blend of idiosyncrasies, particularly in the latter part of the book, and her professional involvement with a very dodgy female lawyer, who attempts to thwart the investigation and undermine her trust of Taylor. Barnes displays a natural wit and feistiness that engages the reader, and without her involvement in the whole affair, I think I would have struggled more with the book. DI Sam Taylor, however, was a whole different kettle of fish, and irritated me throughout. Supposedly in a state of flux and mourning after the death of his wife, he did seem to spend the majority of the book ruminating about himself, and being altogether moody and bad tempered, bemoaning his failings at being a father to a couple of typically angst ridden and stroppy daughters. However, he effectively tempered this woe-is-me attitude with a series of seedy sexual trysts with a local teenage girl in the Lake District, which although allaying (excuse the pun) his voracious sexual appetite, added nothing to the overall plot apart from a bit of titillation, and the further complication of her being intimately involved with the investigation. I grew increasingly annoyed at his midlife crisis behaviour, and just wished he’d get back to the job instead of being on it! Maybe, he should have just permanently ensconced himself in a room with his teenage conquest and left Zoe to get on with the investigation…
Although I loved the location, and the way that Grieves intertwined the haunting and indefinable beauty of this area into the novel, I did carry in my head visions of The Slaughtered Lamb pub (from An American Werewolf In London) in his depiction of some of the local colour- I will concede this may be my over active imagination at play! There seemed to be a little too much reliance on stereotyping the inhabitants, set against the more savvy and worldly detectives. That being said, there was a certain amount of enjoyment to be had from the weird and shiftily guilty members of the community, and the exposure by Barnes and Taylor of the secrets and lies behind the idyllic setting. The drawing on the historic connections to witchcraft and sorcery in rural communities was neatly done throughout. The plot played out enjoyably enough, and the shadow of witchery that overhung the connecting cases added a certain frisson to the whole affair, lifting the book from a bog-standard police procedural to quite an engaging thriller. I will quantify my misgivings, by saying I thoroughly enjoyed Sleepwalkers, Grieves’ debut, and despite the faults that I personally found with the characterisation of this book, A Cry In The Night is still worth a look.
(Published by Quercus, I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley)