Written by Mari Hannah — It is the morning after a local country show in rural Northumbria and the story opens on the grim scene of a victim who has been found hanging from a lynching gallows. DCI Kate Daniels is not the senior investigating officer but we are immediately drawn into the conflict between her and DCI Atkins. They’ve got history. He is leading the inquiry as she has just a few days before she’s due to take off on some much needed personal leave with her partner.
Daniels soon comes into further conflict with Atkins when it becomes apparent that his daughter was a key eyewitness in a fight involving the victim. The story rolls on and the links between the victim and other key characters are unravelled by Daniels and her colleagues. The daily routine of life in a murder investigation team is etched in fine detail with plenty of vivid characters, not least her closest confidante, DS Hank Gormley. The dialogue is tight with flashes of humour and it is with Gormley where it sparkles brightest.
The victim is a popular young man in the village and on the day before his death Daniels had watched him win the wrestling competition at the country show. Some members of the tight knit rural community witnessed a fight in the church grounds just hours before his death but they are giving little away. Daniels and the team have to sift the evidence at each turn as the connections and layers are peeled back. Secrets are revealed and cruel motivations exposed.
This isn’t a book where the violence is glossed over or trivialised but it isn’t presented in technicolour either. Violence against women is unflinchingly portrayed and it’s the psychological impact that reverberates through the story as Daniels uncovers a range of potential suspects and faces up to her own demons. There is a nod to the historical connections with the dark shadow of a grisly death on the gallows, but fans of Gothic crime should be aware that this is not the main thrust of the story. Hannah has an impressive CV having worked across several areas of the criminal justice system and this shines through with a realism that few authors can match.
This is the sixth book in the series featuring DCI Kate Daniels – it began with The Murder Wall – but there is certainly no challenge with reading this book as a stand-alone. Hannah offers the minimum of back story and there are no telltale info dumps, just a welcome feeling that the characters have had a life and experiences before this episode. That’s a deceptively difficult feat to pull off and Hannah should be credited for her skill in easing us into a story that remains coherent within the context of a long-running series.
I found this a slow burner; the story takes time to unfurl and it is 200 pages before we get past the premise offered in the blurb. It never fizzles out but neither does it blaze into life and you may feel frustration as it smoulders away. That’s not to suggest that there are no twists – there certainly are and it is deftly plotted with enough turns to hold your interest. Unquestionably, the strength of this story lies in the psychological drama played out from Daniels’ perspective as she wrestles with her private turmoil and a range of conflicts across her life.
It is grittily realistic without being gratuitous but the internal exploration of Daniels’ psyche dominates the story. That will not necessarily suit everyone but fans of Hannah will slip easily into this latest story and it is sure to attract newcomers. If you want to immerse yourself in the personal psychological stresses of a compelling central detective working their way through a realistic police procedural then you’ve just found an ideal match.
You can read an earlier interview with the author here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars