Written by Tania Carver — You learn something new every day, or so the old saying goes. I’ve just learned that it is really hard to hold onto a book while biting your nails. Tension? You don’t know what tension is until you’ve read a Tania Carver book.
This is the second crime novel entitled The Doll’s House that I’ve read and reviewed in the past month – and they are as different as chalk and cheese. Louise Phillips’ novel of that name was a slow burner, while this offering from Carver, pseudonym for husband and wife team Martyn and Linda Waites, explodes from the get-go. If Phillips’ doll house was a well-tended semi in a leafy suburb, then Carver’s is a veritable Chatsworth House.
The novel is the fifth featuring Detective Phil Brennan and his psychologist wife Marina Esposito, and, unlike the last in the series, Choked, both take major roles here. In the aftermath of that story, the pair have upped sticks and moved to Birmingham to begin again, and while Marina has settled well into her new job at the city’s university, Phil is finding it hard to bond with his freshly-assembled team in the Major Incident Squad (MIS). Some seem happy to have him on board, while others appear to be going out of their way to make his life difficult – so loyalties are certainly tested when MIS is called to a bizarre murder scene.
Standing among many others in a suburban estate, from the outside, the house looks perfectly normal. Inside, the story is very different. One room is prettily pink, from the wall covering to the carpets, curtains and furniture. In the centre of it stands a table, meticulously set out for dinner. And at the table sits a life-sized doll, with blonde pigtails and rosy red cheeks, dressed in a frilly party dress and holding a fine china teacup. But this doll is human, covered in blood – and dead. Strangely, the room also contains a doll’s house, and inside it is a miniature version of the place where the murder was committed – except there is no doll at the beautifully dressed table.
The discovery sets the team on a trail which leads them to the seedier side of the tracks – but also to the door of a celebrity psychologist who is as well known for his high profile TV appearances as for his research, and who, incidentally, is taking a more than professional interest in his new colleague, Marina. The investigation is spread thin as two further bodies are discovered, but although we readers know they were killed by the same, shadowy, man, the police can see no link to the deaths.
Frustratingly, we don’t know who is pulling the killer’s strings. In trademark Carver style, the story is told from many viewpoints, and we’re sent off on some apparently unrelated tangents until it all comes together in a finale that had me, literally, on the edge of my seat.
This pair have a real knack at creating living, breathing characters; whether goodie or baddie – and sometimes the lines between the two can be pretty blurry – they are totally believeable. The city of Birmingham is an inspired choice for Brennan and Esposito’s new home, because it is a place of such great contrasts. Yes, the city has been given a breath of life with the rejuvenated Bullring area – featuring the futuristic Selfridges building – and even a new £188m library. But the regeneration has to stop somewhere, and some of the forgotten, downtrodden parts of Birmingham serve as dark and dismal settings for the action. The many faces of the city are well drawn here, and provide an excellent backdrop for the plotline as it unfurls in all its glory.
If you like your psychological thrillers dark, deceptive and densely drawn, then The Doll’s House will certainly tick all the boxes. Fans of Tania Carver will love it, but it can happily stand alone and is a fine introduction to newcomers too. A recommended read. Now, I’m off for a manicure…
CFL Rating: 5 Stars