The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward - book review
A dark mystery spanning three generations casts a long shadow over a quiet rural town in the Peak District in the fourth outing for Sarah Ward's gripping and atmospheric DC Childs series.
Ward, a reviewer and Scandinavian crime fiction judge who is putting her own brand of Derbyshire noir firmly on the reading map, is back on the beat in Bampton, a fictional town nestling in the rugged peaks where sins from the past have a habit of coming back to haunt the present.
And there is plenty to send shivers down the spine in this brilliant, autumn-cloaked mystery masterpiece as our doggedly determined young detective Connie Childs follows the trail of disturbing events from sixty years ago which start to throw up links uncomfortably close to home.
Bristling with tension, intrigue and shocking revelations, The Shrouded Path takes us deep into some fascinating corners of Derbyshire’s history and legends whilst delving into the murky secrets of a group of Fifties schoolgirls.
In November of 1957, the first chills of winter are in the air as six teenage schoolgirls walk together through the churning Derbyshire mists. Watched by another girl from a neighbouring school who hears their voices carrying across the fields, they follow the old train tracks into the dark tunnel of the Cutting.
What disturbs the watcher is that their banter wasn’t friendly and only five of the girls appear on the other side of the old tunnel. In a frenzy of fear, she waits for news of a missing schoolgirl but the story never breaks.
Sixty years later, Mina Kemp’s mother Hilary is dying and the old lady is feverishly fixated on a friend from her childhood. ‘Find Valerie,’ she pleads but Hilary has never before discussed her childhood with her daughter. So who was the mysterious Valerie and where does Hilary’s obsession spring from?
Meanwhile, DC Connie Childs, who is still suffering the repercussions of her last big case, has been partnered with DC Peter Dahl, the new arrival in Bampton. Following up on what seems at first like the routine natural death of a woman called Nell Colley, Connie’s gut instincts begin to kick in.
Nell, who recently retired, had been writing a memoir and was relieved to hear from her old boss that ‘you can’t libel the dead.’ Determined to find out the truth about Nell’s death, Connie starts broadening her enquiries and unearths incidents that have reverberated down the years and across the generations.
Something happened one cold evening in 1957 and it hasn’t been forgotten…
Like its chilly November backdrop, The Shrouded Path has an underlying pall of threat and darkness which is guaranteed to get under the skin of readers.
Using her trademark blend of spine-tingling atmosphere, masterful plotting, outstanding characterisation and enthralling detective work, Ward weaves a powerful story with a deeply human core.
Family dynamics, friendships, jealousies and long-held grudges are explored as Ward sweeps us into the depths of rural Derbyshire and into the lives of a community harbouring old but potent secrets which are poisoning the present.
Leading the hunt for the truth is DC Connie Childs, a complex and sometimes reckless young woman who grows in stature with each book. Her instincts, her dark humour and her sparky relationship with fellow officers are just some of the joys of this fast-paced and fascinating series.
Moody, menacing and with more than a hint of the macabre, this is a mystery that grips like a raw day in the Peaks…
(Faber & Faber, hardback, Â£12.99)