Written by Eva Dolan — From page one of this excellent book, Eva Dolan reveals why she is one of the rising stars of British crime fiction. She announced her presence with the first two books in the series, Long Way Home and Tell No Tales, set in the Hate Crimes Unit of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Does the third book continue to deliver? Yes, and in spades.
In a village not far from Peterborough, a house is wrecked after a gas explosion. As the fire officers enter the house next door to rescue the occupants, they make a grim discovery – the partially decomposing body of a young mother, stabbed to death in what seems to be a frenzy of rage. Upstairs is the body of her bedridden and paralyzed teenage daughter, left to die of thirst and hunger.
DS Mel Ferreira, of the Hate Crimes Unit, would not normally be involved in this type of case but a year earlier the dead woman, Dawn Prentice, had contacted the Unit about vandalism and harassment over young Holly’s disability. Ferreira has only just returned to work after sustaining terrible injuries from a nail bomb, but she is determined not to show weakness. She and her boss, DI Dushan Zigic, make early inroads into the case, and find that the village of Elton is not as idyllic as its warm stone houses and cottage gardens might suggest.
We soon learn about the stress fractures in the community. There is Dawn’s ex-husband Warren, now living nearby with an older woman. The climbing accident which broke Holly’s body also broke her parents’ marriage. Then there is Julia Campbell and husband Matthew, professional foster parents, with a record of handling the toughest cases. But where is young Nathan, one of their current children, and why don’t children’s services have a record of him?
Zigic discovers that Nathan has run away, but is baffled by Julia Campbell’s evasiveness. Nathan is a child in care, one of the most vulnerable members of society. Why on earth wasn’t his disappearance reported to the police? Is it possible that he is the killer? Just as Zigic feels that he is edging closer to the truth, he meets a very unco-operative fellow officer from out of the area, and then gets an unequivocal warning from his boss – do not include Nathan in your investigations. Dolan handles this enigma brilliantly. We share Zigic’s frustration and, like him, we are left to speculate about Nathan.
Among the book’s many qualities is that it’s a masterfully written whodunnit. We meet suspect after suspect. Each has their fair share of means, motive and opportunity, but no-one ticks all the boxes. The answer comes, as it should, just a few pages from the end. In the meantime, we are treated to the subtle but perceptive chemistry between Zigic and Ferreira. They are yin and yang, but are also conjoined by their immigrant backgrounds and the fact that they are damn good coppers.
As a native of the area, I can vouch for the perfect use of location; Peterborough is like an overgrown child, bursting out of its clothes – it was never designed to be a multicultural melting pot, and the everyday, real life strains are very evident. That said, the Hate Crime aspect of this story is much less in evidence than in the two previous books. There is crime, obviously, and many a misdemeanour is uncovered as Zigic and Ferreira close their net around the killer. As for hate, the sheer mad violence of the assault on Dawn Prentice is doubly shocking when we eventually learn whose hand held the fatal knife.
We are not yet finished with January, so it is premature to be thinking about book of the year. What I will say is that it took me just two sessions to read After You Die, with the real world spinning by unheeded. Eva Dolan has positioned herself firmly at the top table of contemporary British crime writers.
Read our interview with Eva Dolan, a former Crime Fiction Lover contributor, in this 2013 interview. After You Die is released for Kindle on 14 January, and as a hardback on 21 January.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars