Written by Alastair Gunn — Antonia Hawkins is an acting detective chief inspector, or ADCI. She is ambitious, but her attempts to remove the ‘A’ from her rank have taken a major hit because her previous case ended with her being stabbed and slashed within an inch of her life. After extensive reconstructive surgery and a long spell in bed, she is released into the dubious care of her well-meaning but eccentric father, and her lover – and colleague – Mike Maguire.
Antonia is determined to return to work and, hoping against hope that the stitches in her horrendous stomach and chest wounds hold, she propels herself into the incident room in an embarrassing NHS-issue wheelchair. Her peace of mind is not improved by the presence of Steve Tanner, an officer she feels is being groomed as her replacement. Her first big case on return involves the brutal killing of a young woman on St Valentine’s Day, so the tabloids are quick to label the assailant The Valentine Killer.
As other deaths occur, it becomes clear that the victims are all former prisoners who were sent down for causing death, but had their sentences shortened due to extenuating circumstances and were released early on licence. It seems the killer is some kind of vigilante, paying off the avoided years of imprisonment with a weapon freely available on every high street – a domestic hammer. Antonia struggles with the case both physically and mentally. Her relationship with the long-suffering Maguire is also on the rocks due to her injuries, and the post-traumatic stress caused by the attack. With the help of the prison authorities, the team tries to identify possible future victims, and one of these attempts leads to Antonia returning whence she came – to a hospital bed.
One of the major issues facing a series writer is that a new reader has to feel completely at home, and not left out through not having read the previous novels. Gunn handles this perfectly well and, while the legacy of Antonia’s horrendous assault is ever present, you won’t be bogged down with lengthy accounts of the back-story if you missed The Advent Killer. Antonia is difficult to warm to as a person – her growing paranoia over the perceived threat from the oleaginous Tanner become wearisome after a while – but what we do have is a stunning plot twist which I never saw coming. When it does arrive, author Alastair Gunn is clever enough to have planted a tiny but potent red herring earlier in the narrative, which momentarily had me thinking, ‘Surely not?’ I am not certain if the eventual solution is psychologically plausible, but the final section of the book is brilliantly done, with the most gripping car chase I have read in a long time.
Gunn takes a risk. We read chapters which involve two separate characters who seem to have nothing to do with the narrative. These jar at first, but it slowly dawns on you and it becomes clear who they are. A final thought unrelated to the quality of the novel. When you choose a title, surely authors and publishers must check the internet? Googling ‘My Bloody Valentine’ calls up numerous hits for the Irish alternative band by that name, a 2009 film and, eventually, a 2011 novel by the prolific James Patterson. Despite this, the book deserves to do well, and I would be delighted if it leapfrogs the other My Bloody Valentines to the head of future search results.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars