Author – Sarah Hilary
Published – 23 April 2015
Genre – Crime fiction
It’s only since I’ve started blogging about books and paid more attention to the comparisons between debuts and second novels that I’ve realised that not every brilliant debut leads to an equally good second book. I have to confess that there are a few follow-up titles that I haven’t even been able to bring myself to review – they fell so far short of the promise of their predecessor. Hilary’s debut, Someone Else’s Skin, won numerous plaudits and was picked as a title in the WH Smith Richard and Judy Book Club for Autumn 2014, so book two has a lot to live up to! Fortunately it certainly doesn’t seem to be a problem and I have to say that if anything I prefer this book to her debut.
In her debut she tackled the issue of domestic violence and she doesn’t shy away from difficult topics here, with the discovery of the bodies of two small boys in a underground bunker as the opening the book. It’s around 6 months since the end of Someone Else’s Skin so there’s not a great deal to fill in and not too much time covering previous events. There are one or two references and probably the right balance to get someone new to the series up to speed.
Marnie Rome is working with her able assistant Noah Jake again. Although not strictly in their patch Rome is called to the discovery of the two boys’ bodies because of a connection with a previous missing child case in the area. The boys have been found in an underground bunker in the garden of a new build house. (As someone who has lived in several new builds this doesn’t really worry me – I am certain there is no room for a bunker in our garden!!) The deaths are mysterious with no obvious cause and there is no clue to their identity, they haven’t even been reported as missing.
As the police undertake the investigation there are a number of different strands and plotlines that are woven together and a few moments where the reader is taken by surprise (well I was). Hilary makes a great job of keeping up the pace and keeping all the threads moving along. As with her debut the story is predominantly told from Rome’s point of view, to a lesser extent Jake’s and there are some more mysterious contributions. With a little less backstory than in the debut the author has taken the opportunity to develop both the characters of Rome and Jake.
The aspect of Hilary’s writing that sets her apart from most others in the genre is the part that emotions play. The books are character-led and Rome, with her traumatic past, seems to torture herself with the crimes and the empathy she has with those involved. The subject matter is necessarily dark and it is steeped in grief and anger. There are some lighter moments, such as Jake’s relationship with his brother, but not the sort of black humour that might lift the mood. In her descriptions Hilary even seems to have emotions taking physical form – especially in the gripping climax. I have to say that it’s probably this emotional quality that stops me rating the book more highly – I would prefer to be able to make my own emotional connection with the events and characters, but I know that this exploration of the characters is one many readers like.
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on Pamreader’s blog.