Retired police detective Fran Harman and her husband Mark have been getting rather bored, and take up West Mercia police on their offer of looking at a cold case. Twenty years previously, Natalie Foreman’s car was found abandoned at a roadside with no sign of Natalie or her son Hadrian. Her young baby Julius, who suffered from a terrible illness, was found dying in the back seat. Despite the best efforts of the police at that time, no trace was ever found of Natalie – and her husband, a professional footballer, didn’t seem that concerned…
No sooner have Fran and Mark turned up, it becomes apparent that they are not particularly welcome – a diverted river floods their house and their evidence regularly goes missing. Is it just a case of resentment from the police that worked on the original case, or is there something more sinister going on? As the stakes increase, Fran and Mark finding themselves increasing unsure who exactly they can trust in their search for the truth?
Funny this – I’m not a massive fan of cold case novels, but I’ve read two of them in my last three reads. You could make a bit of a case for The Sticklepath Strangler making it three out of three, but it doesn’t really count if you find an old body of an apparently still-active killer. Anyway, there’s a parallel as well between this and A New Lease Of Death as well, as both take atypical routes. You know the standard – someone has been keeping a murderous secret for years and when threatened by our heroes, starts killing again. That’s not the story that either Judith Cutler or Ruth Rendell decided to tell.
It’s actually pretty hard to review this one as, to misquote Isaac Newton, as it stands in the shadows of giants. My last two reads were truly outstanding, some of the finest crime books that I think I’ve ever read – and this is simply good. The characters of Fran and Mark, as they fight to bring their cold case team together and then… well, better not spoil that element of the book, are well done, although, as ever with joining a series late (this is book six, I think), long term readers may well get more out of them than I did. Their colleagues are a nice bunch too – a shame that, I presume, that they won’t stick around as Fran and Mark go back to Kent.
As for the plot, I really can’t say much about it at all for fear of spoilers. It takes a little while to get going, and in the early stages, it’s hard to see where it’s going due to a complete lack of evidence or suspects. As I said, it goes in a different direction that one might expect, but I think, like the Rendell book, hunters of the classic mystery may come away disappointed. It takes a brave author to try something like this – I’m still weighing up whether it worked for me or not. Still not sure…
I’ve every confidence that loyal readers will find lots to enjoy here and if you want something a little different, then this is certainly worth a look.
My thanks to Severn House for providing this review copy via Netgalley.