Written by Lesley Thomson — In the second Detective’s Daughter mystery, accidental detective and owner of a cleaning business, Stella Darnell, inherits another case. Her father, Superintendent Terry Darnell, has been dead for a year but Stella is unable to move on. She still visits his house daily, almost expecting his return any time, and keeps it spotlessly clean. During her ministrations in his basement office Stella discovers what appears to be an unsolved case – a folder of unlabeled photographs of deserted streets. This strikes her as odd – her father was a stickler for order. Every case he’d ever worked on was correctly filed in the Hammersmith station where he was based. Why is this one different? She believes he’s left her a mystery to solve from beyond the grave, one he never could close out himself. Unable to resist the challenge Stella decides to investigate and calls on Jack, one of her employees, to help her.
The oldest photo dates back to the day in May 1966 when 10-year-old Mary Thornton was taking her brother home from school and the Moors murderers Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were sent to prison for life. Mary witnessed an accident that changed her life forever. During her investigation Stella learns that the photos relate to a series of road traffic accidents on the streets of London spanning 40 years and are linked to the event that affected Thornton so much…
Stella Darnell’s first outing was in the smash hit novel, The Detective’s Daughter, which reached number one on the Amazon chart and was voted Sainsbury’s Ebook of the Year in 2013. Interestingly her publisher describes Thomson as ‘the dark horse of fiction in 2013’ as The Detective’s Daughter was very much an unexpected hit.
Though Ghost Girl follows on from The Detective’s Daughter, it is sufficiently independent to act as a standalone. There are references to previous events, but these are minor in scale compared to the driving force of the narrative. It is this aspect which is the strongest element of the novel. Ghost Girl is incredibly rich in description, every sentence oozes texture, depth and colour. Essentially there are three story arcs, each from the perspective of one of the characters. Two take place in the present day as Stella and Jack investigate the crime, but in amongst them we get Mary’s perspective from back in 1966. The three arcs develop the story and over time blend together. It’s an interesting approach.
Which leads to another element that is well handled, that of character development. Because there are three stories going on, the opportunity for this is limited. The three stories also means there is a large supporting cast of secondary characters, which sometimes proves distracting and a need to flip between the three which can break the flow.
Stella, through her cleaning business, spends a lot of time looking after others, whether it’s her increasingly forgetful mother, her customers or her dead father, whose house she still regularly visits and attends to. Jack is one of her employees, popular and good at his job he also helps Stella with cases, mainly by breaking and entering other people’s properties in unusual ways. Everyone wants his time. But there’s something strange and hidden about him. And Mary, a calculating, self-serving child again with hidden depths and a darkness about her. It’s all a bit grey, somewhat grim, slightly seedy. Mystery abounds in Ghost Girl as a result.
The story unfolds at a steady pace, developing each plotline in turn, while Stella manages her company, her day to day life and the personal traumas associated with it. The revelations will creep up on you, so don’t expect wham-bam action and intrigue; this is slow burn, cerebral stuff which needs thought applied when delving into the plot.
Head of Zeus
CFL Rating: 4 Stars