We met Ward earlier this year in The Birthday. She’s a committed copper with a husband and two teenagers at home, all of whom feel neglected at times, especially when she’s in the throes of a tricky case. And they don’t come much trickier than this one.
Last Lullaby opens with a familiar scene – a couple returning from a night out, rowing about what occurred. The pair in question are Adam Brannon and his wife Charlotte, the event a meal to celebrate her parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. The problem? Charlotte is accusing Adam of not making an effort during the evening.
So far, so run of the mill. But when Adam drops his wife off at home, collects the babysitter and sets off to drop her off, he little realises it’s the last time he will see Charlotte alive. What follows is chilling and gruesome, as a drunken Charlotte drops off to sleep, only to be awoken by the baby monitor, broadcasting the sounds of a stranger in her little son’s bedroom. The baseball bat she pulls out of its hiding place for defence is about to become the weapon that brutally kills her.
Enter Ward and her team, who are all aghast at what they find.Charlotte has been badly beaten to death, the word ‘why’ carefully written in her blood on the bedroom wall. Luckily, six-month-old Alfie lies undisturbed in his nursery. Who could have wanted to murder Charlotte, and – as the chilling message says – why?
Last Lullaby is a masterclass in misdirection as Wyer blithely leads her readers up one blind alley after another. First, Ward and her team think the perpetrator is one person, then another, then another. Trouble is everyone seems to have a cast iron alibi. But if you learn one thing from this book, it’s not to take anyone at face value, and that includes the murder victim too.
The investigation takes up much of Ward’s time, and that means her home life suffers. Husband David seems particularly needy just now. His widowed father has a girlfriend and David is finding it hard to come to terms with the fact. Ward can only offer limited support, and she senses there’s something more in play but when another mother is murdered, the word ‘who’ written in the victim’s blood, she is forced to put all personal concerns aside.
While Ward and her team tie themselves in knots, you are offered a tantalising glimpse of the killer, via occasional short, italicised chapters which offer a verbatim account of meetings between a psychiatrist and a patient who is having vivid dreams about killing women. The further into the book we get, the more disturbing these meetings become. We have no clue as to the patient’s identity though, as Wyer toys with us as well as her characters. Interesting as they were, I felt these interludes slowed the pace a little.
I was a little disappointed with The Birthday, and wondered if DI Ward could really work as a central character. But I needn’t have worried because this author has really hit her stride with book two in the series. Ward and her team – DS Lucy Carmichael, DS Murray Anderson and PC Ian Jarvis – are now well established and the police procedural element of Last Lullaby is strong, but the home lives of Ward and Carmichael in particular also play a vital part in moving the narrative along. The action takes place mainly in the fictional town of Sanford in North Staffordshire, but there’s a trip to the seaside too, with a particularly dramatic scene played out in Blackpool.
There’s a tasty finale to this book that will leave Wyer fans wanting more. Never fear – a third Natalie Ward book is in the pipeline!
CFL Rating: 4 Stars