Written by Tony Black — Detective Inspector Bob Valentine of the Ayr police is a man with a special talent. The dead plead with him. Ever since he was stabbed in the heart and passed away himself, only to be resuscitated several minutes later, Valentine has possessed this ability. It’s something he’s slowly learning to live with and accept.
When developers working on remote farmland in Cumnock discover a rusty barrel buried deep underground Valentine is called in – because it contains the mummified body of a young boy. Then, beneath the first, a second dead child is found. Two boys, both of school age, one strangled, the other bludgeoned to death. They are soon identified as children missing since the 1980s. One was the only child of a working class couple, the other from a children’s home called Columba House, itself now closed after an abuse scandal involving some of the staff and, perhaps, the local Conservative MP, who committed suicide before the abuse trial began.
The barrel was found on Sandy Thompson’s land. Thompson has recently died and today is being laid to rest. Valentine is immediately suspicious of the timing. How is it that a property developer was able to start work so quickly on Thompson’s farm? Years ago Thompson had adopted a boy called Gerry Keirns, an ex-resident of Columba House and a known petty thief who has inherited the farm. He’s driving a nice car and living in a decent house – the farm barely paid its way and Thompson, not yet even in his grave, was a heavy drinker. How could Keirns be solvent so quickly?
Valentine heads to the funeral to arrest Keirns, not thinking of the scandal this will cause in such a small village. As Valentine arrives, he sees former MP Gerald Fallon heading out, the man who took over from his disgraced predecessor. Through a long and difficult case which impacts the detective and his family too, Valentine uncovers the secrets buried with the boys… ones that will rock the small community to its very core and thoroughly test Valentine’s own commitment to his job.
Summoning the Dead might be the third instalment in the DI Bob Valentine series but reads perfectly well on its own. The paedophilia theme is both current and shocking, not just for readers but for the characters in the story. The narrative hits the ground running and Black maintains the pace throughout, asking increasingly difficult questions of his protagonist – a literally damaged man, but one with an ability he is yet to see as a gift (for once in a novel the damage is a positive). Valentine is steadily growing more comfortable with his ability, though his family struggle with the impact his job has on all of them.
So even though it works just like a police procedural, Summoning the Dead has strands of the paranormal running through it, that set the book apart from the regular fare. However, in this outing the paranormal aspects are less obvious than the previous instalments and we are brought nearer to the past by a series of flashbacks.
We have previously reviewed the earlier instalments in this series – Artefacts of the Dead and A Taste of Ashes. You might also like to try Matt Hilton’s Preturnatural and Douglas Jackson’s War Games.
Black & White Publishing
CFL Rating: 4 Stars