Written by Rachel Abbott — Authors today have a choice. They can go down the standard route, sending their manuscripts to traditional publishers who may or may not give it the attention it deserves. Or, they can self-publish through platforms like Amazon. Rachel Abbott, once the owner of a multimedia company, chose the latter path and has found huge success. When Amazon celebrated the fifth birthday of its UK Kindle store in 2015, Rachel Abbott was confirmed as the UK’s top selling independent author. Since Only the Innocent made waves back in 2013, she’s been releasing a book a year and continually outsells numerous crime writers with prestigious publishing deals. The Sixth Window is the sixth to feature her police detective DCI Tom Douglas.
It opens with a scene which has become something of an Abbott trademark. On a dark country lane, Sgt Bernie Gray is taking the family’s new puppy for a short, early morning walk. It is to be the last for them both, because moments later both Bernie and Zena are dead, victims of a hit and run driver.
Jump forward in time 18 months, and Bernie’s widow Natalie and daughter Scarlett have moved in with Ed, a former colleague of Bernie’s. Slowly and surely, over the past year-and-a-half, Natalie and Ed have grown closer and are now ready to become a couple. Then Natalie finds some disturbing images on Ed’s computer and she begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about him.
She and Scarlett move out and find a temporary home in an apartment block in Manchester, but it’s a long way from Scarlett’s friends. She isn’t happy – it’s the summer holidays and she’s reduced to catching up with schoolwork at the nearby library. While Scarlett fumes and makes mer mum’s life a misery, Natalie struggles to cope with what she’s learned. She and her daughter grow ever further apart. Then Scarlett begins to hear ghostly voices. A bored teenager, odd noises and a mysterious window… what could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, across the city, DCI Douglas and his right hand woman DI Becky Robinson are reunited and soon out on a case. An unidentified young woman has been found dead at the foot of a derelict building. Did she jump or was she pushed? Jennifer Bale was an unassuming girl who came from a quiet, God-fearing family. Did she have a secret boyfriend? As Douglas and Robinson dig deeper, they realise the answers to their questions are not so clear-cut. Then things get even more convoluted when new evidence re-opens the unsolved hit and run case involving Sergeant Bernie Gray.
Complicated? You betcha, and as the narrative buffers about like the ball on a snooker table you may well have trouble holding onto the thread of things. Sadly, for fans of Tom Douglas there are huge chunks of the story where he is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the majority of the tale focuses on Natalie, Scarlett and the place where they are now living. It holds secrets, of that there’s no doubt, and as things skate perilously close to the supernatural it’s increasingly difficult to sort out reality from fantasy. Rachel Abbott shows a picture perfect understanding of the female teenage psyche (she was once one herself, after all) and Scarlett fair leaps from the page. Natalie, however, can be something of an annoyance and her constant indecision was a little wearing.
Previous books have gradually developed the characters of Douglas and Robinson – and the way they work together, bounce ideas off each other and interact socially has always been a highlight – but there’s little new to add to their story this time and that’s a pity. Granted, The Sixth Window will work as a standalone for newcomers but followers of the series may feel it lacks something. There are plenty of twists and turns to hold the attention to the bitter end, but many crime fiction readers will sort the wood from the trees well before the finale.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars