Author – Sarah Ward
Published – 2 July 2015
Genre – Crime fiction
‘In Bitter Chill’ was one of the debuts that I was particularly looking forward to this year. I’ve known Sarah for a few years, initially as a fellow blogger (she blogs at Crimepieces.com) and then as a friend in real life, and I’ve been intrigued to follow her progress as she has gone from blogger to author.
The story of In Bitter Chill is rooted in the events of 1978 when two young girls were abducted on their way to school in the Derbyshire Peak District town of Bampton, later the same day just one of the girls was found. Move forward thirty five years and the mother of the still missing girl is discovered dead in the town’s hotel. The death appears to be suicide but her link to the abduction means that the local police are called in to investigate, and here we meet two of the main protagonists: DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs.
One of the original policemen involved in investigating the girls’ abduction has remained in the local force and has risen to be a Superintendent, the death prompts him to reconsider the original abduction case in the hope that new methods and new personnel will be able to shed some light on it.
DI Sadler sets his team (DC Childs and her colleague DS Palmer) to review the investigation but budget constraints mean that this requires old-fashioned detection rather than new-fangled techniques. It is inevitable that the officers will speak to the surviving girl, Rachel, despite the fact that she was unable to offer any information on the events at the time.
Rachel, the third point of view in the story, now back living in the town, is a single and seemingly quite isolated young woman pursuing a career as a genealogist. She is still unable to remember much of what took place in 1978 but the flashbacks of her memories fill the reader in on her perspective of the events. The renewed interest in the case is upsetting for her and something that was never adequately tackled at the time, but the more recent events and her own attempts to find out what happened mean that her memories start to return.
In unravelling what took place the book explores themes of family, especially the roles of women and the consequences of trying to bury the truth in the past. As the investigation progresses the characters of the three principals are fleshed out and it’s always a relief when the detectives aren’t saddled with some cliched addiction.
The book opens with a prologue that is intense and beautifully written with haunting imagery, the reader’s glimpse into the events that took place in 1978. What surprised me about the book was that despite the author’s interest in Scandinavian crime fiction (as a judge for the Petrona Award) the story is a quintessentially English police procedural. Discovering that one of her early influences was PD James makes much more sense. What she does share with the Nordic authors is an ability to evoke a sense place and the Derbyshire town is brought to life. The straightforward story-telling, lack of violence and the emphasis on the relationships between the detectives mean that this is an easy book to recommend to people.
I know that ‘book 2’ is in the pipeline so it will be interesting to see which characters make the grade and appear in the sequel.
Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on Vicky Newham’s blog.