I was absolutely thrilled to be contacted by Faber & Faber to see if I wanted to be part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of the fourth book in the DC Connie Childs series, The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward. I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous books in this series, written by the blogger Crimepieces, one of the earlier crime fiction bloggers I found all those many moons ago when I started blogging.
With its tale split between the past in 1957 and the present, this book certainly didn’t disappoint and at the risk of being repetitive this was even better than the three that preceded it.
One November evening in 1957 six teenage girls walked into the train tunnel at The Cutting, but only five made it out again. What happened to the sixth is shrouded in a mystery as murky as the mists that swirled around the Derbyshire landscape.
In 2014 Mina Kemp is sitting by her mother’s bed in hospital. Hilary is dying but she has become unusually agitated believing that she has seen her childhood friend. She begs Mina to find Valerie and despite not knowing where to start, her mother never having mentioned Valerie before Mina determines to do her bidding.
Meanwhile the Bampton police should be having a quiet time of it. With just one natural death on the books to follow-up while DI Sadler is on his holidays it is only the temporary elevation of Matthews in his absence that is causing the work to be more arduous than needs be. However there is the new DC, Peter Dahl to show the ropes to so they pay a visit to the deceased, Nell Colley’s home, to see if there is anything at all suspicious about her death.
This series is everything you could want from a crime fiction novel. Even though it is part of a series each book is entirely self-contained, although of course the characters develop from book to book. One of my favourite aspects is that all the characters are great, they are all genuine people, police as we like to imagine our local police force to be; caring and diligent with an absolute drive to get to the truth. This isn’t a series overburdened by police politics or gripes about how the force has changed. These are detectives in the old mode, ones that really want to detect. Of course one of the most striking qualities is that the setting is superb. As one who has holidayed in the area the village of Bampton is as you’d imagine a typical village in the area to be and by taking us back as far as 1957 that feeling s reinforced even more in The Shrouded Path. Best of all there are multiple threads that are meticulously plotted so that there is a real sense of satisfaction at a well-told story by the time you turn the last page.
In a book that changes from past to present and back again we get a flavour of life in the 1950s not by way of obvious signposted items but from the everyday context from a girl not allowed to sing carols before Christmas Eve (and not arguing about her father’s strict order) to the simpler times where life was about making your own entertainment, riding bicycles to choir practice and secrets being hidden well away from prying eyes.
This is the perfect autumnal read – my only disappointment is now I need to wait a while before I learn what Sarah Ward will serve up next for DC Connie Childs.
First Published UK: 4 September 2018
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
I knew from Sarah Ward’s first book featuring Connie Childs that this was going to be a series that had me hooked and I can now safely declare that the third book, A Patient Fury, confirms my prediction. In this episode Connie Childs is more driven, contrary and tenacious than ever before and so for all her faults it is impossible not to admire her.
Connie has been off work for quite some time but she’s now re-joined the team having recovered from her injury during a recent case, so what if at her most introspective she wonders if it is too soon? Then while she’s just finding her feet she is called out by DI Francis Sadler to a fire in Bampton. A house has gone up in flames and the occupants are all feared to be dead. No officer likes a fire, and Connie is no different but when she can’t accept the sequence of events provided by the Chief Fire Officer it looks like sparks are also going to fly between her and her boss. DI Sadler really isn’t up for Connie’s side investigations and nor are the victim’s family.
On one level this series is a solid police procedural set in the fictional town of Bampton in the Peak District. I was lucky enough to read my copy whilst on a weekend break near the non-fictional town of Leek which confirmed that the author has provided the reader with a setting which is in keeping with the reality of the area. But above that Sarah Ward gives us a plot that is both credible and yet audacious. The lines of enquiry are followed but there is more beneath the surface than trying to find the answer to the three main questions: means, motive and opportunity, the lid is also lifted on family life, the parts that we often don’t want to acknowledge.
Connie Childs narrates a good proportion of A Patient Fury but as in the previous books, we also hear from someone on the edge of the investigation, Julia, who is connected to the family who lived in the burnt house. Julia is an interesting woman, a giver of tours underground for school children and the like by day and the tour guide for ghost walk’s around the area by night. She has also lost a parent in mysterious circumstances in the past so whilst most of the book is linear, we also have flashbacks to the early eighties. Regular readers of my reviews will know that I find the collision between past and present irresistible.
This is a book full of red herrings and that of course the puzzle is one of my favourite aspects of the crime fiction genre. There is no cheating and although I had my suspicions on whodunit I wasn’t entirely sure why and although I don’t usually mention the ending – this one has the justness that early proponents of the genre would have delighted in just as much as I did.
Despite there being lots going on in this book both in terms of diverse investigations (mainly the diversity is Connie going her own route) and the number of characters, the writing is both clear and compelling. The author has allowed one of her detectives to move to another Police Authority which works well and allows a new character to step into the team mixing up the dynamics most satisfactorily and will hopefully allow the series to continue to grow and delight for many more books yet. If you haven’t read this series and you love well-written crime fiction, I suggest you add them all to your bookshelf.
A Patient Fury is the fourth book I’ve read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been purchased in September 2017 so I gain another third of a book token!
Put A Book On The Map is off to Derby featuring the DI Damen Brook series written by Steven Dunne. Our blogger guide Mary Mayfield of Our Book Reviews Online has kindly agreed to give us a resident’s view of the area and has kindly provided the wonderful photos of key spots to illustrate this post
Before Steven Dunne tells us a bit about Derby and of course DI Damen Brook’s life there, here is a little bit about Derby. Derby is also one of the places in Britain who are the furthest from the sea and somewhere that I’ve visited a few times, the Peak District being a popular place to holiday and I’ve actually stayed in Ashbourne as well as paid visits to the spa town of Buxton. But without further ado, I am delighted to introduce Steven Dunne.
D.I. Damen Brook
1. The Reaper (2007)
2. The Disciple (2010)
3. Deity (2012)
4. The Unquiet Grave (2013)
5. A Killing Moon (2015)
6. Death Do Us Part (2016)
“Brook hadn’t chosen Derby as a place to live and work. He’d picked up the first available transfer out of London…And Derby hadn’t let him down. It was a pleasingly unremarkable place to lose himself. An engineering town by tradition, which marked out the population as hard working and straightforward, it also boasted a large and well-integrated Asian population.
Frank Whittle, pioneer of the jet engine, was much honoured in a city where Rolls Royce was the main employer. Derby also had one of the largest railway engineering works in the world. It was a city built on transport, going nowhere. Obligatory retail parks ringed the city and much of the population and traffic had followed, making Brook’s neighbourhood, if not any more glamorous, then certainly a little quieter.
And despite the inevitable decline of such an industry-dependent city, crime was not excessive and murder was rare. But what really marked out this East Midlands backwater was the Peak District, a few miles to the north-west. Brook had fallen in love with it and took every opportunity he could to drive into the hills and soak up the peace of the countryside. Ashbourne, Hartington, Buxton, Bakewell, Carsington Water – all were favoured haunts, where he could dump the car and walk for hours alone, clearing his mind of all the clutter.”
In the first novel of the Reaper series, Detective Inspector Damen Brook describes his new posting in the East Midlands after moving from London. Following a damaging, and only partially successful, struggle to bring the serial killer of the title to justice, Brook’s once-stellar career is on the skids and his marriage over. With his move, he has reconciled himself to a quieter life. Of course, he’s deluding himself and, six books later, Brook’s star begins to rise again because of his dedicated pursuit of justice.
And Brook speaks for me. My reasons for relocating from London to Derby were thankfully more mundane but, when I made the move, I experienced the same reaction to my new home. Brook works in the city – at the real-life St Mary’s Wharf police HQ – but lives in the lovely Peak District village of Hartington. Driving home through the countryside late at night provides him with an essential safety valve when a case threatens to overwhelm him and I often write these into the novels as a break from the high-octane tension of Brook’s investigations.
Derby itself is Britain’s most landlocked city and houses a quarter of a million people. It is home to global brands like Rolls Royce as well as a thriving university, which served as a location in my 5th novel, A Killing Moon. Derby is also, apparently, the most haunted city in the country, though I’ve yet to see one. Ghost walks have been thriving for years centred around the old Derby Gaol.
Brook took a while to see Derby’s virtues after being wrenched from London but neither of us could envisage going back.
By Steven Dunne
Mary Mayfield kindly offered to share her love of this series of books featuring Derby and as well as her brilliant book reviews, you can also find her tweeting with the handle @marymayf
I first discovered Steven Dunne in 2012 with his third crime thriller Deity. I knew before reading that it was set in my home town of Derby but the only book I’d previously encountered set here was very sketchy on location, and at times the characters’ movements through the city were downright infeasible.
So when I read Deity, I was surprised to recognise the locations as quickly, easily and precisely as I did; in fact when a dead body is slipped into the river Derwent in the second chapter, Dunne gives enough detail that anyone familiar with the area could point to the spot. This accuracy continued throughout the book – the movements of police, victims and suspects could be plotted along familiar streets in the city centre (Waterstones book store gets a nice mention), another ‘incident’ occurs near Exeter bridge a route I regularly take between car park and downtown shops, but for me the most chilling moment came when the killer appeared to be heading to the house of a friend of mine!
Since then, DI Brook has been finding dead bodies, talking to witnesses and tracking down villains, on golf courses and allotments, at both the sixth form college and the university, in the city’s pubs (always named) and pleasant suburban villages – and whether it’s Brook getting confused by Derby’s one-way system, or someone taking the quickest way on foot from one end of town to the other, I can follow the route in my head or on a map every time.
I think there’s something a little strange about my delight in reading crime thrillers set in places I know so well. I wouldn’t want real crime taking place there (and I certainly hope Derby doesn’t have anything approaching the number of murderers that Brook encounters) but to read about it is a different matter. Maybe it’s like watching a film and feeling that exciting moment of “I’ve been there” recognition, or a certain level of strange pride that Derby could be as famous for fictional crime as Morse’s Oxford or Rebus’s Edinburgh; whatever’s the cause, it does add a certain something to a novel.
Despite the chills I’m rather keen to see a DI Brook novel set in my own suburb. I’ve offered coffee as a bribe to encourage Steven Dunne to come and recce the area – I could point out all the hidden footpaths and alleyways that cut through the estate, all the ways a villain could make a quick getaway if necessary – but so far he’s not taken me up on the offer.
By Mary Mayfield
Read Mary’s review of Deity here which really captures how much we all seem to love books that accurately represent those places we know well.
Book Reviews from around the Blogosphere
As we are really putting a whole series of books on the map, I have found a different blogger review for each title. I do hope if you’ve already read all the books, you might well find a new blogger to follow instead!
The second in the Francis Sadler series set in the fictional town of Bampton in Derbyshire is written in Sarah Ward’s trademark style of an easy read in a book full of complexities.
After being released from prison Lena Fisher moved back into the family home with her younger sister Kat. The two girls had been close up until the close of their teenage years in the 1980s when Lena withdrew and pulled away from her sister but following her release from prison the two live in the large house bequeathed to them both following the death of their professional parents. Despite Kat’s ambivalence towards the house, because Lena feels a connection, the prospect of it being sold is slim and Kat’s job as a counsellor simply can’t fund the repairs desperately needed to stop the house crumbling further.
Once again the novel has its roots in the past with the convicted murderer, Lena Fisher, committing her crime in 2004. Lena murdered her husband by suffocating him in their marital bed and served twelve years in prison for her crime. The problem is that a man found in a disused World War One mortuary, fabulously named Hale’s End, appears to be the very same Andrew Fisher – now that’s a mystery as one man simply cannot die twice!
But before the body is formally identified Lena goes missing causing Kat to worry. Kat herself is sure she is being watched and maybe followed, and that feeling only intensifies when she is given strange gifts by a teenage boy. The first such gift is a gun dating back to the war. Meanwhile unsurprisingly the local police force are themselves being investigated into how a woman was convicted of killing the wrong man, so tensions are running high as DI Francis Sadler, DC Connie Childs and DS Damian Palmer find they need to delve back to the past in order to have any chance of working out what has happened in the present. As an aside, although DI Sadler gets to give his name to the series, in A Deadly Thaw the police’s actions are mostly seen through Connie’s eyes, herself a complex character and although there is rivalry between her and Damian Palmer the book doesn’t get bogged down in endless police politics, yet accurately reflects a close working relationship with all its pitfalls.
As I found in the Sarah Ward’s first book, In Bitter Chill, not only is the plot complex, the characters are a delight. Although I found Lena the most difficult to understand there is a wide range of people that walk and talk like real people do! The author takes real care to ensure that not one of the characters feels like they’ve been designed to move the plot along, these are people who matter in their own right and when we are not looking are moaning about the day they’ve had or that they forget their umbrella! As a reader we get the full picture through the eyes of Kat and the police. This author is determined to keep you hooked with the chapters often ending on a revelation which because the time period and often the point of view changes you have to hold that thought until you catch up with the thread a few chapters later. Sarah Ward owes me some sleep – I simply couldn’t put this book down.
Sarah Ward is most definitely in the bracket of female writers of crime fiction that use issues as a theme to underpin their storylines but manage to do it without reiterating every other page what that is. These are books that get under your skin as well as giving you a fantastic puzzle to solve. I’m really hoping we will be seeing more of Francis Sadler and his team before too long.
First Published UK: 30 August 2016
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Sometimes when you start a book you just know that you are going to really enjoy it; this was one such book. This feeling transcends plot and characters and can only be put down to writing style, which is so much harder to define, so beyond saying the writing flows exceptionally well, I will leave it there.
The story starts way back in 1978 in Derbyshire when two young girls get into a car with a woman, only one of the girls returned, Rachel, and in the intervening years there has been no clue as to what happened to her friend Sophie.
In the present Sophie’s mother, is found dead in a hotel room, news that is quickly followed by the discovery of a body in nearby woods. These two events cause the police to take another look at the historic crime. Rachel is questioned but she is not able to remember anything more than she could as a young girl but this doesn’t stop DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs believing that she must hold the key if only they can work out the right questions to ask.
This is a very easy book to read but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the plot and the characters are simplistic, far from it!! With the strands in the past and present dexterously woven throughout the story there is a lot to ponder, not least Rachel’s fascination with ancestry. Unusually Rachel’s family tree concentrates on the women in her family with the roots of suspicion or even outright dislike of men, threading back through many generations. Rachel has used her interest in genealogy to build a career, she is no stranger to hunting through the archives on behalf of her clients; even the least astute reader can’t help but wonder how far back the seeds to the crimes were actually sown. However with the secrets in this Derbyshire town bubbling away below the surface the intrigue level is really high. My poor detective skills were on overdrive as I cycled through the normal motives drawing a blank in every direction.
Rachel is a great character, a woman who has been determined not to be defined by what happened to her as a child, but nor is she blasé about it. With fresh interest and new deaths the journalists are back and she is none too pleased to see them. It isn’t just Rachel’s character that feels so realistic, I don’t think I met one secondary or even minor character that I wasn’t equally convinced that I could meet out on the street.
This is a crime novel which certainly exceeded my expectations with all the elements that are required to successfully produce a high quality story all present and correct. The ending, which I often don’t mention was perfect, the book whilst having plenty of surprises does not bring a motive and character out of left field, rather staying true to the more ‘old-fashioned’ crime novels where the perpetrator is justly identified from combing the evidence which all makes for an incredibly satisfying read.
I am thrilled to see that Sarah has a second book due out in September 2016, A Deadly Thaw, because I will definitely be putting this author to the top of the ‘must-read” pile. In Bitter Chill was a book that was worth every last speck of the five stars I awarded it and better still is a book I can see myself re-reading in the future with just as much enjoyment.