Isabelle Grey has been brave in taking the contemporary issue of child abuse and grooming by those in power in The Special Girls. Not an easy topic by any standards and yet this only too believable tale doesn’t avoid the other side of this crime, those men that have been falsely accused in the full glare of the public eye.
Dr Tim Merrick, a young psychiatric registrar is found brutally murdered while supervising a camping trip of eight girls suffering with eating disorders, the main question being asked was why he wasn’t, as he was supposed to be, supervising the girls at the camp in Essex. The girls were chosen from Professor Edward “Ned” Chesham’s clinic at St Botolph’s hospital in London as those who had made good progress as a reward and a way of learning how to enjoy life with tree climbing, swimming in the lake and other healthy pursuits.
With the adults at the camp with a firm alibi Grace Fisher has no option to take a look at the young charges but with such fragile girls, they simply can’t be investigated in the normal manner which presents something of an issue for the capable Detective Inspector. With the motive unclear Grace does what she can to get the investigation off the ground, however she has barely started when she is asked to head up a Metropolitan Police review into a cold case involving Chesham himself called Operation Mayfly. Soon she is interviewing her old boss who ran the investigation into a sexual assault involving Chesham some twenty years ago.
I was delighted to see the unusual friendship witnessed in the previous two books in this series between Ivo the crime reporter on the Courier and Grace Fisher is still going strong even while questioning the wisdom of this pairing. It isn’t as though Grace isn’t aware of the recent phone hacking scandal and the resultant need to keep any contact between the Police and the press strictly above-board.
The Special Girls, while focussed on an uncomfortable subject has its attention on the effects of the crime rather than the details of the crime itself, except where absolutely necessary. The power games within the police are exposed because of the political hot potato that this particular crime has become which goes against Grace’s belief that the police are there to protect the public, not themselves. We also here from the father of one of the girls under Ned Chesham’s care, in what feels like an authentic look at life with a daughter with an eating disorder. None of the elements are overly laboured but together the political and the personal are built into a crime that is not only a whodunit but reflects contemporary views and issues in an incredibly effective manner.
There is of course a fair bit of Grace’s personal life which feeds back to the main story arc that began with her being ostracised by her old force when she made a complaint about another officer, one who happened to be her husband. This time around it seems as though Grace has finally found her feet but how far can she do to appease her superiors and protect those who she feels require it.
This series is definitely worth following and The Special Girls has ensured that it stays on my ‘must-read’ list as I can’t resist intelligent contemporary crime fiction which is based on proper research thereby avoiding the clichés that some in this genre space fall into. Not only that it was an interesting read with perfect pace and clever plotting without forgetting that readers love a cast of characters that they believe in.
The Special Girls will be published today 6 April 2017 by Quercus who allowed me to read an advance review copy of this book. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.
Previous books by Isabelle Grey