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Twenty years ago, in a drunken fit of jealous rage, Malcolm Whiteley shot his wife and killed his daughter before turning the gun on himself. Or did he? DCI Hannah Scarlett’s old boss was never convinced, but could never find evidence to put anyone else in the frame. Now Hannah and her cold case team are re-investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl three years earlier when another girl goes missing – the daughter of Nigel Whiteley, who is now living in his uncle Malcolm’s old house, the Dungeon House, where the tragedy took place. Hannah begins to wonder if the three cases might be linked in some way…
The first section of the book, almost a lengthy prologue, tells of the lead-up to the killings. Malcolm is convinced his wife is having an affair but doesn’t know with whom. He suspects each of their friends in turn and obsessively watches their behaviour to see if he can pick up any signs. The characterisation of this successful and egotistical bully is very well done, and the reader is also introduced to some of the characters, young at the time of the killing, who will re-appear in the present day section.
At this stage, I couldn’t get up much empathy for any of the characters and didn’t really feel invested in their fate. However, when the book jumps to the present, it becomes a very enjoyable read. Hannah is a great character – normal, intelligent, functional. Her interactions with her team are convincing, and I particularly enjoyed the glimpses we got of her relationship with Patrick, the man she is living with. Their dialogue comes over as natural and they are gloriously angst free, both being interested in each other’s work and mutually supportive. Refreshing!
This section, the bulk of the book, is split between Hannah’s perspective and that of Joanne Footit. Joanne had been friends with Malcolm’s daughter and, traumatised after the killings, left the area. But now she’s back and hoping to revive her old relationship with Nigel. The way Joanne’s character is developed is very clever – at first we see her only from her own perspective and then gradually Edwards lets us begin to see her through other people’s eyes. She’s intriguing, and as she meets up with the people she knew years before she seems to be stirring up old memories that many of them would prefer to leave buried.
Edwards creates a good sense of place in the Lake District setting, both in terms of the physical location and of the people who live there. He contrasts the beauty of the scenery with the looming atomic plant at Seascale, using it to help emphasise an atmosphere of growing tension as the story progresses.
The plotting is excellent on the whole and, though it goes a little over the top at the end, largely remains well within the bounds of possibility. As one might expect from Edwards, the author and editor of several books on classic crime fiction, there are echoes of the Golden Age mysteries, though brought bang up to date. The small town location means there’s a limited cast of suspects and that slightly claustrophobic feeling of everyone knowing too much about their neighbours’ business. There are proper clues and Hannah and her team work their way to the solution through the traditional technique of interviewing people – so much more interesting (to me) than trying to work out how long it takes for blowflies to invade corpses, etc! I didn’t work it out, but when the solution was given I found it credible and satisfying.
Overall, well written and strongly plotted with some excellent characterisation – Hannah is a detective I will enjoy meeting again.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.