Written by James Raven — Dying Wish is set in The New Forest. Well, it’s not new but it was recorded as Nova Foresta in The Domesday Book. That was in 1086, but this is the present day and Grant Mason, a popular local author who has written guide books on the walks and natural history of the forest, has succumbed to a fatal heart attack. His dying words are whispered to his personal assistant, and he tells her to burn down his cottage – and everything in it. Meanwhile, a young married couple having some private time together have left their young son with grandma, and headed off to enjoy themselves. Their car has been discovered, randomly parked in a side street, and they seem to have vanished from the face of the earth.
Enter Detective Chief Inspector Jeff Temple of the Hampshire Major Incident Team. He mourns a dead wife, but is rebuilding his life with a fellow police officer who is herself recovering from serious injury. The deceased author’s PA is a friend of Temple’s, and she confides in him about her former boss’s dying wish. Temple pays an unofficial visit to Mason’s house, and what he finds there shocks him to the core. Despite Mason’s reputation as a nature lover, he had a darker side. Temple discovers a collection of S&M gear. Much worse than that, though, is photographic evidence that Mason and another unidentified man were sexually abusing children.
As if this weren’t enough, there’s also a map of the New Forest on Mason’s wall with marker flags pinned in certain places. Suspecting the worst, Temple employs a SOCO team to investigate one of the sites with ground penetrating scanners and his fears are realised when the searchers discover human remains. Thus unfolds a massive police investigation which unearths more bodies across the forest. Temple knows that the dead will not be any less dead for being disinterred, and he has two more pressing concerns. Firstly, who is the other man featured in Mason’s photographs? And where are Bob and Rosemary Hamilton, the missing couple? Are they already dead? The narrative rattles on at a decent pace, and there is a very clever plot twist at the end – one which experienced crime fiction readers may well be able to see coming.
In some ways this is a standard police procedural, but with a few curiosities. The dying man’s last request to his assistant, that she burn down the house and everything in it, was a rather heavy handed cue for a major police investigation. The sheer number of couples who had disappeared in the New Forest over the years without the police joining up the dots and deciding something was wrong also had me shaking my head. Call me an obsessive movie buff if you must, but when one of the characters in the story is none other than Noah Cross, I can hardly be blamed for thinking about the monstrously evil character played by John Huston in Chinatown. And, Google reveals that Ethan Kane – the suspect pursued by Temple and his team – shares his name with the American producer of the adult films Soloerotica 3 and Sapphic Liaisons!
Despite the aforementioned oddities, Dying Wish works well enough as a police procedural, and at just over 200 pages, it will entertain fans of the genre. Temple himself is a decent sort of fellow, and we do care about him and his personal life, which is the acid test of any character driven novel.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars