Written by Clare Donoghue — DCI Jane Bennett has her hands full. Ever since the Southeast London murder squad’s last big case, her boss DC Mike Lockyer has not been the same. His career may even be threatened by his handling of the now infamous Stevens case, which formed the basis of Donoghue’s last book Never Look Back. The shell-shocked Lockyer is being investigated for misconduct and is on desk duty, going to mandatory counseling sessions. Lockyer couldn’t have picked a worse time to be off his game. Jane is put in charge for the first time in her career and she’s been handed a case that is far too close to home: mutual friend and former cop Mark Leech has disappeared, and his kitchen is covered in blood.
Without the help of Mike, who maintains his bubble of apathy, Jane must sort the facts while comforting Mark’s wife, who is their friend. To add to her dismay, a very nasty murder case is handed over to her. The corpse of a young college student named Maggie Hungerford has been found deeply interred in a precisely-cut tomb. Not only does it appear she was buried alive, but it seems her final agony was recorded via a camera wire worked into the ready-made grave. As Jane picks up the slack in Mike’s absence, she struggles with personal problems and professional self-doubt. But she also shows what she’s made of, and makes the best of her good rapport with the support staff.
Suddenly, the attention shifts away from Jane’s ordeals and we are immersed into the nightmare of a victim who finds herself buried alive. It might be a flashback of Maggie, or a new unidentified victim. We return intermittently to the helpless soul as her life slowly ebbs away in her claustrophobic trap, her suffering poignantly described by Donoghue.
While Jane waits for Lockyer to snap out of his funk, she must deal with Phil, the creepy forensic examiner who questions her new found authority and who is a little too enthusiastic about the gruesome details of being buried alive. The immediate persons of interest for the investigation are Maggie’s university professor Victor Lebowski, who is a charming family man, and his teaching assistant Terry Mort, a slimy narcissistic prig. Both men had intimate relationships with victim Maggie, and both engage in controversial psychological experiments. By the time Jane interviews them Lockyer is coming around and serves as a dependable consultant on the case. When another entombed body is found, it is obviously the work of the same perpetrator, but there are differences that throw the case into a tailspin.
The parallel investigation into Mark Leech’s disappearance uncovers details about his last unsolved murder case. Before retiring, he was obsessed with solving the murder of Amelia Reynolds, daughter of a close family friend. A connection is discovered to the same professor who is prime suspect in their current case. Did Mark get too close to Lebowski and was he murdered?
No Place to Die is a superb balance of thrills, forensics, and deep feeling. Starting at a steady procedural clip, events and emotions begin to accelerate until the book is impossible to put down. As Jane and Mike bear down on the truth, we are kept guessing all the way until the heart-stopping finale.
Forensic geeks will be pleased by rich procedural detail, but we also see the unglamourous grunt work involved in police investigations. Donoghue is a quick study on police procedure but also devotes a great deal to building realistic characters and relationships. The crime scene banter between cops who need to gird themselves for the horrific work ahead, and especially the pathos of victims, all give this book its beating heart. One noteworthy scene that portrays the awful intimacy of police work has Jane and her colleague informing the family of the murder victim.
Graphic, suspenseful, and disturbing as this book is, it never feels gratuitous. We look forward to more of Clare Donoghue’s unique brand of procedurals with heart.
No Place to Die goes on sale 12 March. Read our interview with Clare Donoghue here.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars