Life Sentence by AK Turner

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Life Sentence by AK Turner front cover

Cassie Raven is a great name for a protagonist, isn’t it? She sounds like something out of the Twilight books. But no, this Cassie is right at home in the crime fiction genre – although she’s not your usual, run of the mill character, far from it.

Cassie is a mortuary technician in London, someone who has eviscerated thousands of bodies in her line of work. She treats her ‘guests’ with the utmost respect, talking to them as she does her job – and sometimes… they talk back. Like I said, Cassie is no run of the mill character.

Firstly, she is a quirky dresser, down to her facial piercings, tattoos and partially shaven hairdo. She is also an orphan, because both her parents died in a car crash when she was just four years old, leaving her to be brought up by her beloved Babcia, her Polish grandmother Weronika. Actually, that second sentence isn’t true – because Cassie has just discovered that her grandmother has been lying to her all these years. Her father is alive and is now out of prison after serving a long sentence for killing her mother.

As Life Sentence opens, Cassie and her father Callum meet. He is adamant that he didn’t kill her mother, Kathleen, and asks his daughter to help clear his name. Cassie is unconvinced, but the request sends her thoughts into overdrive. Could Callum be telling the truth? And if he is, then who killed Kathleen all those years ago?

This is the second in AK Turner’s Cassie Raven series and those who read the opener will be delighted to hear that DS Phyllida Flyte makes a reappearance (this author certainly has a way with character names!). As Cassie tries to put together the fragments of what happened back in the 1990s, she is going to need Flyte’s help, and the pair is destined to get closer as the story progresses.

Cassie’s old friend Kieran, a reformed drug addict trying to set up his own small business, is also keen to help with the investigation, and his Camden street smarts begin to produce results as he uncovers details of Callum’s days as a fledgling pop star in the up-and-coming band Poitin. Working together, Cassie and Kieran begin to find anomalies in the case. Could Callum really be innocent?

Entwined with the main narrative thread are fascinating peeks into Cassie’s working life. She is intuitive and caring and when the body of a young boy is brought to the mortuary, an apparent suicide, she senses something is off but struggles to find anyone else to take her doubts seriously. Already we know Cassie enough to deduce that she isn’t about to let this slide.

Camden, both current day and back in the 1990s, is lovingly brought to life in Life Sentence, its trendy facade masking the darkly overlooked corners of the borough. The depiction has a faintly ghostly quality too, which sits well in a story that has a most unusual woman at its very centre. Cassie is a fine creation, and unlike any other protagonist I’ve met in recent years. There is a hint of Abby Scuito from TV’s NCIS series, a smidgeon of The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency‘s Mma Precious Ramotswe, but Cassie Raven is a complete one-off.

Turner peoples her story with characters you soon find an affinity for, with Kieran, Flyte and Weronika the stand outs in a wide ranging cast. The plot is well wrought , those little moments of other-worldliness somehow fitting right into a book that stands firmly in real life. As Anya Lipska, AK Turner found plenty of fans for her series of books featuring Janusz Kiszka and Detective Natalie Kershaw — now I encourage you to make a date with Cassie Raven. It’s quite an experience!

Meet Marni Mullins, another highly original central character, in Alison Belsham’s The Tattoo Thief. For more crime fiction based around forensics click here.

Zaffre Books

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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