Written by Liz Mistry — When the body of prostitute Sharon Asif is found in the snow dappled graveyard of a Bradford churchyard, DS Alice Cooper unwittingly opens a can of grisly worms. In the locked loft of the dead woman’s house are 20 children, two of them dead. It transpires these kids have been removed from various Eastern European countries and transported to the UK to be the playthings of the unscrupulous, all achievable for a fee paid by willing clients.
Back in 2003, in Cambridge, Cathy Clegg enters the police station brandishing proof her husband is a paedophile. Against her better judgement the police persuade Cathy to return home and allow a case to be built against him and the ring of abusers. The sting works reasonably well with a number of the perpetrators being sent down. However the ringleader, known as The Matchmaker, gets away but he swears revenge against Cathy.
DI Gus McGuire is in charge of the unit investigating the children’s abduction but he has problems of his own, signed off work after being stabbed in the course of duty. That he was unable to save a young boy in the process haunts his nights. McGuire cannot return to work until signed off by a psychiatrist. He is also recently separated from his wife, apparently unable to stand by him during his moment of need. So it falls to Cooper, for now, to investigate. It seems like a shadowy figure called The Matchmaker is responsible for the children’s plight. He and a group of like minded individuals.
In the present day, Cathy ironically now lives in Bradford under an assumed name having gone through witness protection following her husband’s trial. The family live behind impressive security but Cathy’s daughter leaves the building and is kidnapped. Has the time finally come for The Matchmaker and his evil compatriots to get their revenge? Can McGuire and his team catch The Matchmaker before it’s too late?
This is an easy read and moves at pace. The storyline is a pretty compelling one too. There’s description aplenty with Bradford itself and the melting pot of culture described in detail, in fact it’s probably the strongest element of the novel. The characters too are well drawn and relatively believable.
Unquiet Souls (nice title) is a dark and at times grim read, with child pornography, abduction and revenge at its root. However, the descriptions never veer into the graphic or the sensational and as a result the novel is stronger thanks to this approach.
It takes a little concentration to keep up with the shifting narrative as it moves between 2003 (Cambridge) and 2015 (Bradford). The chapter headings are key here.
There are a couple of weaknesses. First, the dialogue. It is not always convincing and there is a repeated use of people’s names, which isn’t normal in natural speech. However, this can be relatively easily ignored. The second is you need a degree of suspension of disbelief. That a number of characters from 2003 Cambridge ended up in Bradford is one example, although it is reasonably explained.
Unquiet Souls is a decent debut novel and Liz Mistry shows plenty of promise…
CFL Rating: 4 Stars