Book review: A Deadly Thaw byÂ Sarah Ward
A body found in a disused mortuary in Derbyshire opens up an old murder case '“ and a poisonous can of worms '“ for the local police force.
Unravelling the truth behind a series of disturbing discoveries and intriguing mysteries will cast doubt on events of 12 years ago and the competence of the investigating officers.
Sarah Ward, whose debut novel In Bitter Chill won rave reviews last year, returns to Bampton, her fictional town set against the dramatic backdrop of the rugged Peak District, for another classy, compelling whodunit.
Using the same powerful blend of mystery, masterful plotting, superb characterisation and enthralling detective work, Ward delivers a gripping, atmospheric thriller which explores the culture of policing and the destructive, and sometimes deadly, legacy of past crimes.
When the body of a man – shot in the chest – is discovered in an old First World War mortuary near Bampton, Detective Inspector Francis Sadler immediately recognises him. Andrew Fisher, once a City accountancy consultant, was a childhood playmate but, more importantly, Fisher was supposed to have been murdered 12 years ago.
Fisher’s wife Lena admitted suffocating him with a pillow while he slept in their bed and was jailed for murder after offering no defence. Only recently, Lena was released from jail on parole and is living with her younger sister Kat Gray at their old family home in Bampton.
But before Lena can be properly questioned over the real identity of the man she claimed was her husband and what led her to tell such a devastating lie, she disappears after mysteriously telling her sister, ‘Not everything can be told.’
Sadler, DS Damian Palmer, DC Connie Childs and the Derbyshire team are left trying to discover how such a well-orchestrated deception could have occurred. While members of the original team worry whether their jobs are now on the line, Connie is convinced that something greater than marital strife caused the murders.
Meanwhile, Kat, a therapist, is shocked by her sister’s duplicity and when she starts to receive mysterious packages from a young man claiming to know Lena’s whereabouts, Kat follows the clues and is drawn into her own investigation of her family’s well-hidden secrets.
As her inquiries begin to collide with the murder investigation, a link to the sisters’ teenage lives emerges, and the line between victim and perpetrator becomes blurred. Kat must uncover the truth before there’s another death…
Ward, a perceptive and observant writer, moves up a gear in A Deadly Thaw as she weaves seamlessly between past and present, throwing in delicious red herrings, stunning psychological insights, flashes of dark humour and some highly emotive issues with the finesse of a seasoned author.
This is a blistering story with brutal undertones but Ward handles her themes with subtlety, sensitivity and the lightest of touches. Alternating narratives and a chilling landscape add depth to a complex, page-turning plot brimming with captivating characters, each perfectly fleshed out and each satisfyingly real.
The conflicts within the police team and the subtle way that the past informs the present give a multi-dimensional feel to a cracking thriller bristling with mystery and menace, and almost unfathomable until the final showdown.
Ward is an intelligent writer, growing in confidence and stature with each book, and one of the most promising and exciting newcomers to the crime fiction game.
(Faber, hardback, £12.99)