Written by Anne Penketh — Freelance political journalist turned author Anne Penketh made her fiction writing debut in 2015 with Food Fight, a novel set stateside and centred around the food industry. Her latest book from indie publisher Joffe Books sees her launch into the world of crime fiction, with a police procedural novel set in North Norfolk, and we’re including it here as part of New Talent November.
Murder on the Marsh is the first instalment in the DI Sam Clayton casebook. Eight-year-old Jimmy Spratley goes missing on the local marshes. Three days later, his mutilated body is found buried in a shallow grave in the churchyard at Glaveney’s village church, his heart torn out. The remains of the boy’s heart are later found near Glaveney Point with what looks like a dog’s teeth marks all over it. Several animals have gone missing in the village, so is the culprit man or beast?
Before Clayton and his team have time to make any headway into their hunt for a child killer, someone else from Glaveney goes missing. Emma Dawson, a waitress at the Point Hotel, failed to collect her young son from a neighbour after her shift at work. However, her employer reveals that she didn’t even go to work, which means she has been missing for more than 12 hours. When her body is found dumped in a boat at Branstable, the team wonder if the two murders are linked – they may be looking for a serial killer.
They are under pressure to get results fast and with the department under threat of financial cuts, failure could mean job losses. With no leads in the Jimmy Spratley line of the enquiry, Clayton and his sergeants Neil Pringle and Julie Everett turn their attention to the second death and a potential suspect, Michel Billard. He was the last person to see Emma alive, and he’s not been seen since she disappeared. The manhunt will take Clayton to France and bring him back with more questions to answer.
Things get creepier as Emma Dawson’s son Eddie refuses to speak. Instead he draws pictures indicating some form of trauma trapped inside his young mind. Has he seen something that he’s too frightened to talk about? It turns out Emma was obsessed with the medieval mystic Mother Julian of Norwich, and thought she was communicating with her via séances. In a village that is deeply superstitious, with many of the locals convinced that a mythical dog known as Black Schuck roams the marshes, Emma’s professed abilities had garnered a following. Members of this secretive little group bear a tattoo of a daisy, and none is too keen to reveal themselves or what took place at their meetings. Was Emma all she seemed to be?
Anne Penketh has managed to cram an awful lot into her crime fiction debut. In Sam Clayton we have the stereotypical detective with a shambolic personal life. He’s divorced and living in a house that’s too big for him, and tormented by nightmare neighbours who play loud music at all hours. Throw in an ex-wife who’s fling has ended and is looking to get back with him, and we have a man with a dilemma. Particularly when we add to this mix two subordinates with equally complicated home lives, and one of them potentially jobless within days.
With so many different threads to keep up with, this is a book that demands your undivided attention. At times it does feel as though there’s a little too much going on, but as debuts go, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how this series and its main characters develop.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars