Written by Mark Roberts — Ever heard that definition of a newspaper: black and white and read all over? It’s a description that could equally apply to this tense and totally engrossing novel.
Let’s tick off the elements. The white is the snow, which is near blizzard intensity when a family of six are slaughtered in their beds. The red? Well as you’ve probably guessed from the title, it is the blood that is spattered liberally at the crime scene and throughout this tale. And black is everywhere – in the dark deeds carried out by person or persons unknown; lurking at the back of the troubled mind of DCI Eve Clay; and also in the setting for the bone-crunching and nerve-shredding finale.
Mark Roberts was long-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger for What She Saw, which features London-based DCI David Rosen. Blood Mist is the first in a series to feature Eve Clay and is set in Liverpool, where the author was born and raised. His intimate knowledge of the city is clear in the pitch-perfect descriptions which lift the locations right off the page and embed them into the imagination. The inclusion of maps of the areas featured also help.
Blood Mist opens in 1984, where little Evette Clay is being introduced to a new children’s home. Abandoned as a baby by her mother, Eve has been in the tender loving care of Sister Philomena. But now her guardian has died and the precocious six-year-old has no intention of being fostered out or adopted by some kindly family. “You either find my real mother and father and I will live with them, or I will live here until I come of age,” she pronounces – the first signs of an iron will which stands her in good stead as the action moves to the present and we see Eve in her element, working a difficult case.
She is married and has a much-loved son, and the career/child juggling act is beginning to take its toll, especially when she reaches the murder scene in leafy Aigburth. It is only a couple of minutes from her own home and the six bodies she finds in the blood-bathed house have been artfully arranged. The victims are all from one family – grandmother, mother, father and three daughters aged 15, seven and two-years-old. There are strange, bloody daubings on the wall and when Eve answers the ringing landline she is greeted by a chorus of gutteral, barely human noises and clicks.
There’s worse to come, because the subsequent post-mortems show a clear footprint on the stomach of one of the victims. It is the result of a heavy stomp and the mark is from a child’s shoe… So far, so utterly intriguing, but then Roberts throws another spanner in the works. There’s a strange, charismatic serial killer who is locked up in the high-security Ashworth Psychiatric Hospital on the outskirts of Liverpool. Adrian White (dubbed The Baptist by the press) and Eve have history – after all, it was she who put him away. Now he wants to see her.
This is where things began to unravel a little for me and I felt as if I’d missed a book. Not so – second in the series, Dead Silent, is previewed at the end of Blood Mist – but the Baptist thread left me somewhat confused for a time. What possible connection can he have to the deaths? He takes no interest in current affairs, speaks only when he feels like it and has had no visitors since his incarceration. So why does he want to see Eve? And how on earth does he predict what will happen next? These questions and more are answered as things progress but on occasion I felt as if the author had thrown too much into the pot and the narrative flow suffered as a result.
This is a dark, violent and bloody book that is likely to keep you up at night. Not because of nightmares – but because you want to find out more. There is much to love about Blood Mist. Eva Clay is a great addition to the ever-growing band of flawed protagonists battling with a difficult past – and there is still plenty of her back story to be revealed. Using some of the more well-off areas of Liverpool also adds something new to the mix and it was refreshing to see the city in a more positive light – mass murders notwithstanding.
Head of Zeus
Print, Kindle, iBook
CFL Rating: 4 Stars