Out in the real world, Staffordshire sounds like a pretty peaceable place to live. Not so in crime fiction land – over here, it’s a haunt for all manner of nasty pieces of work. Oh, and a surfeit of serial killers, thanks to the tender ministrations of the ever-industrious author Carol Wyer, whose novels have sold over a million copies and been translated into nine languages.
We’ve reached book three in her latest series which features DI Kate Young – the previous ones were titled An Eye for an Eye and A Cut for a Cut. A Life for a Life is a police procedural that opens in dramatic style, with a prologue about a motorway crash involving a family travelling to the airport. We’re left in suspense at the point of impact. What relevance can this have to what is coming next? Hold on to that thought…
As the story proper begins, Kate is at her journalist husband’s desk in his home office – a place that will be very familiar to fans of this series. She’s a widow who up to now has held two-way conversations with Chris, who was shot and killed on a train as he was coming back from London. But suddenly Chris’s voice has disappeared, and Kate is convinced that it’s because she hasn’t yet managed to avenge the death of her husband – something she has pursued thus far to the point of obsession.
Wyer creates a vivid portrait of a fragile, driven individual, teetering on the edge of a breakdown, but all that must be put aside when Kate and her team are called to investigate a murder. A young man has been found dead at a local railway station, killed with a captive bolt pistol – the kind usually employed in the supposedly humane slaughter of animals. It’s not a pretty sight, and worse is to come as the killer sets out on a spree.
The crime locations are random, and there appears to be no connection at all between the victims – so what the hell is going on? It’s going to take some sharp detective work to get to the bottom of all this, and Kate, who isn’t sleeping and is lost in the depths of grief and barely holding onto her sanity, just isn’t in the zone. Can she get her act together and offer her team the insight and leadership it so desperately needs?
The answer is… maybe. Readers already fully committed to following Kate’s journey certainly have the advantage on anyone who comes to this book as a stand alone read, because A Life for a Life relies so very much on what’s gone before. But there’s also a disadvantage to that loyalty, because for me the central character’s struggles are stretching the realms of believability. Her grief is graphically and realistically relayed, but other parts of the narrative seem a trifle rocky – for example, I’m unsure whether any real life copper with such obvious issues would still be allowed to work, let alone manage a high profile team of detectives, when she is so clearly not running at 100 per cent.
The murderer and his motivations are different from the usual, and the fact that his manic behaviour so closely mirrors Kate’s own is a neat plotting move, but the to-ing and fro-ing between the main police investigation and Kate’s off the books work to assuage her guilt over Chris’s death slow things down and sometimes dissipate the tension that might be building. The double denouements, when they came, felt a little bit rushed. Nevertheless, this is a solid addition to a series that has garnered many fans.
You’ll hit a rich vein of police procedurals on our site by following this link. Also see Carol Wyer’s Robyn Carter novels.
Thomas and Mercer
CFL Rating: 3 Stars