Written by Darryl Donaghue — After a major storm devastates the country, the village of Sunbury finds itself cut off by floodwater and fallen trees. There is no electricity, and no mobile phone masts have survived. As the villagers come out and try to pick up the pieces they find that the parish priest has gone missing, and the rectory has been ransacked. PC Sarah Gladstone – who has been staying with her mother for the duration of the storm – is forced to co-ordinate the search for the priest despite her relative inexperience as a police officer.
The obligatory dog walker finds the man’s body, savagely mutilated and buried in a shallow woodland grave. Sarah is completely out of her depth but with the assistance of a recovering alcoholic she manages to establish some sort of order, despite the lack of communications and resources. She learns that the late priest was in the habit of hearing confessions and then writing down what he’d heard, minus the names, in a series of notebooks. She finds the notebooks hidden away in Father Michael’s house, and even a cursory reading tells her that there may be several parishioners who would have an interest in them remaining secret.
This is a readable story that is at times quite gripping. The initial concept is interesting enough – a community cut off by a devastating storm and resultant flooding has to come to terms with a savage murder, which can only have been committed by someone within the community. We’ve seen similar set-ups many times before, usually involving isolates islands. The hard work comes in maintaining consistency within that framework. When there is no power, you can’t have someone popping upstairs to work on a computer or to take a nice hot shower. Yes, we are assured it’s a gas shower. So is mine, but it won’t work without electricity. As we saw in England last year, flooding can be catastrophic, but there are boats and helicopters – none of which are able to reach the stricken town of Sunbury until the broadcast media intervene. A more rigorous editor might also have weeded out mistakes and mis-usages such as leant instead of lent and flair for flare, however the book has a decent cover for a self-published novel.
The narrative definitely picks up once contact with the outside world is resumed for the folk of Sunbury. The eventual arrival of more senior police officers and the restoration of power to the village allow the usual raw materials of a police procedural to be fashioned into a story with shape and substance. You will not need to be a forensic genius to identify the main villain, as that person’s identity is flagged up fairly early in the piece, but Donaghue neatly spins a web of guilt which leaves few of Sunbury’s inhabitants completely innocent. The strongest element of the book is the central character. Sarah is thoroughly likeable, decent and although she is at the start of her career, she is still a wife and mother first and a copper second. This makes a refreshing change from fictional officers who sacrifice their families for the job. A neat ending points the way that future stories about Sarah Gladstone will travel.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars