Written by MW Craven — The Puppet Show was one of last year’s top reads. It got a five-star review here on Crime Fiction Lover, is on the long-list for the 2019 CWA Gold Dagger Award and has a whopping 4.8 Amazon score. The book introduced us to a most singular double act – Sgt Washington Poe and NCA analyst Tilly Bradshaw – who immediately wheedled their way into the hearts and minds of readers.
Now Tilly and Poe are back, in a police procedural which sees Washington Poe in deep, deep trouble. Six years ago, as a Cumbrian police officer, he played a big part in a murder case involving celebrity chef Jared Keaton. Although her body was never found, Poe was convinced that Keaton had killed his 18-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, at the restaurant they ran together. A jury agreed, and Keaton was put in jail for his crime. All well and good – but now a woman claiming to be Elizabeth Keaton has handed herself in to a local police officer. How could Poe have been so wrong?
Or was he? Poe is still convinced he was right about Jared Keaton, a charming psychopath he describes as “the complete manifestation of evil”, but with so much evidence stacking up against the original conviction, he is going to have his work cut out to convince anyone else. When you have Tilly on your side though, the odds should appear a little more in your favour and she soon sets to work in her own unique way, hoping to find a chink in Keaton’s apparently armour plated plea of innocence.
Fans of Masterchef, Gordon Ramsey and The Great British Bake Off will really enjoy this book. It offers a sneaky behind the scenes look at a three-starred Michelin restaurant, and food has a huge part to play in the tasty narrative. Black Summer sets out its stall early doors, opening with a humdinger of a chapter which is likely to put you off fine dining for a quite a while – don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Anyone who read The Puppet Show already knows the ins and out of the unique relationship between dyed-in-the-wool copper Poe and geeky, gawky and utterly adorable Tilly. If you’re new to them then never fear, because Craven deftly brings newcomers up to speed without missing a step.
It’s when things begin to look particularly bleak for Poe that Black Summer really comes into its own, via some cunning plot work and utterly on point characterisation that’ll have you cheering him on from the sidelines. Once more, Cumbria is at the heart of the tale, and in this author’s hands it lives and breathes and is a vital member of the cast. Craven liberally peppers his text with fascinating snippets of trivia that’ll have you stopping and pondering in amazement. They might also be useful in a pub quiz sometime, so maybe make a note!
Some books treat the readers as mere observers, others pull you right into the heart of the action. Black Summer definitely falls into the latter camp and it’s really tempting to just sit down and read, and read, and read, until you reach the juicy finale. Have snacks and drinks on hand – because you won’t be wanting to leave its side for very long.
All the signs are there for book number three, which is excellent news for the Tilly and Poe fan club, and should equally be welcomed by fans of police procedurals with a side order of sneaky. Grab your copy of Black Summer right away, then sit back and enjoy the ride…
CFL Rating: 5 Stars