Written by Mark Sennen — Cut Dead is the third novel in Mark Sennen’s police procedural series following Touch and Bad Blood. DI Charlotte Savage and her team are on the trail of a killer who was at large 10 years ago, but now appears to be back. A pit has been discovered with three mutilated female corpses in it, all bearing the hallmarks of a killer the Savage’s team thought was dead. They face a race against time to apprehend him, but is this the original murderer or a copycat? Throw into the mix the disappearance of a prison officer at Dartmoor – one who was thought to be corrupt – and sleep old Devon looks more like a hotbed of intrigue and murder.
Cut Dead slots right into the grand tradition of the British police procedural, focusing on The Candle Cake Killer who was active several years previously, abducting and killing women around the Summer Solstice. As DI Savage do their work, we’re afforded a parallel narrative by the killer which offers some insight into his motivations. Depraved, manipulative, clever and with his twsted psyche, he proves himself an admirable adversary for Savage.
Our heroine is a solid enough character, casting up few surprises and thankfully free of the normal clichés usually associated with high ranking female police characters. She is highly professional and assured in her control of both her team and the investigation itself. She’s not all that colourful, though, aside from a dubious connection with a local criminal to sort out a problem from her past. The only other character that really establishes prominence or interest is DS Darius Riley, a black officer from London, and a fairly new addition to the team. He gives rise to some good nature jibes regarding his ‘soft city boy’ status in the countryside, but they belie his competency as a police officer which comes to light consistently through the book.
The central premise of the Solstice murders is a little harder to buy. The idea of this incredibly American-style serial killer, straight out of the pages of Jack Kerley or Richard Montanari, with hideously mutilated corpses turning up in a farmer’s field in Devon seems quite improbable. The killer’s narrative treads the well-worn path of many previous books right down to the use of italics for the passages in which he ruminates about his personal history and the road to murder. However, the parallel investigation into the disappearance of the prison officer provides more interest, especially with its link to the unsolved death of Savage’s sister some years previously. Sennen maps possible reasons for the officer’s disappearance very well, as well as the daily temptations and problems encountered in the employment of the prison service. Equally, the historical facts about Dartmoor add an interesting diversion to the main plotlines. Within the book overall, this storyline provides a good counterbalance to the fairly pedestrian nature of the serial killer murders.
Cut Dead might have used a little more life in the characterisation and the wholly American feel of The Candle Cake Killer doesn’t quite fit, but the bok is nonetheless a satisfying enough read – especially if you prefer British police procedurals. Even with my reservations, I will be seeking out the first two in the series, as Sennen’s tight control of the narrative and his obvious affection for and knowledge of Devon do come shining through.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars