Written by Kerry Wilkinson — The Woman in Black is the third, and latest, Jessica Daniel book. It follows Locked In and Vigilante which, until very recently, occupied the top two positions in the Crime, Thriller & Mystery section of Amazon’s Kindle bookstore, and have been in the top 10 for a long time. New Kindle owners appear to be discovering crime fiction via new writers like Kerry Wilkinson, who has self-published all his books so far.
Not having read Locked In or Vigilante won’t be a hindrance when reading The Woman in Black at all. It begins with the discovery of a severed hand in the streets of Manchester. The ring finger is missing, but this subsequently arrives in the mail at the police station where DS Daniel works. Reviewing the CCTV footage from near where the hand was found, they see a woman in a long black robe who manages to conceal her identity from the cameras.
Normally such macabre events brings media attention that investigators can exploit by appealing for information. After all, they have very little to go on, but need to find out whether somebody’s been killed, who the hand belongs to, and the identity of the mysterious person in the robe. The trouble is, the wife of a local MP has just been kidnapped. This not only eclipses the spotlight on the mutilated hand mystery, but absorbs most of the station’s crime officers. More hands start turning up. More fingers arrive in the post. And with a reduced team Jessica Daniel must find the culprit.
The Woman in Black is police procedural without pretense. Wilkinson narrates in clean, plain fashion – it’s almost like reading true crime, or watching one of those real-life CSI documentaries. DS Daniel, DC Diamond and DC Rowlands sift through missing persons reports and data from the crime lab, while finding and questioning possible suspects. There are plot twists and red herrings, but none seem deliberate or contrived. Nor do the characters. They seem like real police and although they have a few personal foibles, they seem to be grounded pros. The case certainly comes before any personalities that are involved.
The author seems knowledgeable on police methods, and nails all the logical aspects of the story down too. For instance, if four officers drive to a crime scene in two squad cars, but only two drive off to follow up further leads, he explains how the remaining two, ditched during the rush, will get back to the station. This fastidious approach to continuity sometimes takes up too many words, and some chapters feel longer than necessary.
The Woman in Black is a clearly told and accessible story, without being obvious. Wilkinson presents things as they might really happen, rather than trying to create drama or generating a clever subtext. Very little violence occurs on set, so to speak, nobody’s having an affair with one of the suspects and none of the detectives drinks themselves stupid to confront personal demons. The fun here is in considering the information along the way, working out whether it’s relevant, and seeing if you can guess who did it before Jessica Daniels solves it. Personally, I like books with more texture – more quirks – but this no-nonsense procedural mystery works very well indeed. That’s why so many people are being introduced to crime fiction by this writer.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars
Read our interview with the author here. Let us know your own thoughts on his books below.