The Dungeon House by Martin Edwards

the dungeon housePast and present…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

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.

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

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.

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32 thoughts on “The Dungeon House by Martin Edwards

  1. So glad you enjoyed this, FictionFan! The Lake District mysteries are among my tops, and I really like Edwards’ other writing, too. If I may, may I suggest that, for those who haven’t yet ‘met’ Hannah Scarlett, you’ll want to start at the beginning – The Coffin Trail. There are some interesting story arcs that make a lot more sense if you’ve read the series.

    • It’s the first I’ve read – doing my usual jumping in in the middle thing. But I think this one must be well up to standard – I was impressed. Have to try to backtrack to the rest now…

  2. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m a big fan of Edward’s. Am I detecting a swing away from psychotic detectives to trained professionals? – we can but hope!

    • I wish – I’ve read a few with more normal ‘tecs recently, but I suspect that might be as much to do with me acively seeking them out. But I do hope we’re moving on from the mavericks…

    • Though I did get a publicity e-mail from a publisher trying to push a misery-fest book out to reviewers, and the tone of the e-mail was almost apologetic – she said something along the lines of – ‘yes, it is more of the same but it’s a good one’. I thought that might suggest they’re beginning to get a lot of negative feedback…

  3. All right, *fist bump thing* — another one I haven’t read that sounds most intriguing! No shame in admitting you followed the clues but didn’t solve the mystery, either. Another one to add to my growing TBR (and if we keep getting foggy, grey days, I’ll have lots of time for reading!!)

    • I’m always disappointed if I do work out whodunit, to be honest – I much prefer to be surprised, so long as the solution doesn’t come out of nowhere. Ha! Yes, winter is always good for reading – we’re still getting rain but they’re warning of snow…

  4. I was really impressed with Martin Edwards book The Hanging Man and since then have been very tempted to read this series – have you read them all or did you jump in here? Your review has told me enough to know I’d love this one… I will put it on the wishlist for now…

    • This is the first I’ve read and I was impressed too. No, as usual I’ve jumped in mid-way – it’s the NetGalley effect! But see above – Margot advises best to read them in order, so I’ve added The Coffin Trail to my own wishlist…

    • I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of the anthologies he’s edited and one of his own short stories but that was all. So I was pleased too! Though of course that means I now have to add another series to the ‘must catch up’ list…

    • I reckon I’ve read so many books about autopsies I could probably carry one out now! *faints* Except I might faint…

      I hope you enjoy it – I’ll be going back to read more of them… sometime!

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