Sarah Ward

The Quickening – Rhiannon Ward

Title – The Quickening

Author – Rhiannon Ward

Published – 20 August 2020

Genre – Historical crime fiction

While I’ve not suffered the lack of interest in reading that others found during lockdown I have found that the change to my routine has made my blogging even more sporadic than normal. Somehow over the last few years I’ve gone from 50 or 60 posts a year to only 12 so far in 2020 but the latest book from Rhiannon (Sarah) Ward has prompted me to get back to the keyboard.

I had intended getting my blog post out in time for the publication date but it’s taken longer to write than I planned as I’ve deleted around 400 words and started again.

So.

Not only is there a change of name for the author but also a change of publisher and genre (as Sarah Ward she is the author of four DC Childs novels) although keeping the crime/mystery element this is a move to an historical setting – the main part of the story being taking place in 1925.

Louisa is a photographer asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex, where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction before the family move to India. She is surprised by the commission but with a baby on the way she’s keen to take the opportunity to earn some extra money. When she arrives she finds that the house is literally falling apart and its inhabitants seemed to be damaged or weighed down with grief; it’s a dark and tense atmosphere that she’s not comfortable with. She discovers that during her stay at the house an event is planned to recreate an infamous seance that originally took place in 1896.

The setting is atmospheric and there is an underlying tension which builds through the story as the secrets of the house and family are revealed. There is a lot of grief and loss in the book, something which Louisa herself is no stranger to, and this is magnified by the decay of the surroundings and the limited cast of characters.

Louisa makes a great lead, she has some modern sensibilities but the author couches these within the constraints of the period. I was fascinated both by the details around the photographic process of the period as well as those around the everyday lives of the house’s occupants. I have to wonder how on earth you can research these tiny details – if they were made up then they were very convincing!

It’s one of those oddities of publishing that I was sitting in the garden in a heatwave reading this dark and chilling mystery – it will make a great read when the nights draw in. A gothic mystery set in a dilapidated country house with a strong female lead, a mysterious child and a cameo appearance by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – what more could you ask for?

Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley.

1star1star1star1star

A Deadly Thaw – Sarah Ward

A Deadly Thaw coverTitle – A Deadly Thaw

Author – Sarah Ward

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

This the sequel to ‘In Bitter Chill‘ and opens with one of the most intriguing mysteries I’ve come across.

In 2016 the body of a man is discovered in a remote, disused mortuary and his identity brings some uncomfortable questions – both for his wife who was imprisoned for his murder in 2004 and the police who pursued the investigation. How intriguing is that??

The story is told across two timelines – 2004, when the initial murder was investigated and 2016, when the body is found a year after the release of his wife from prison. There are so many questions to be answered – who died in 2004, why did Lena confess to a murder she didn’t commit, where has the man been since 2004 and why didn’t he come forward, and who has now killed him? And of course all these questions mean that it would be easy to include spoilers – so I’ll keep the review short and hopefully spoiler-free.

Leading the current investigation are DI  Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs, with the returning characters becoming further developed as the story progresses. There’s some interesting politics, too, about investigating the possible mistakes of their predecessors and superiors.

When Lena disappears her sister, Kat, takes matters into her own hands and tries to track her down – and this creates the second pov for the book, adding to the police perspective. This means that we learn about Lena and the background to the story from others rather than directly from Lena herself. The climax of the book comes as the two investigations begin to come together.

The author’s style mixes the elements of a cosy Peak District mystery with the chill of Nordic Noir. An enjoyable read, especially if you like intriguing British police procedurals which offer a slow burn rather than a thrill a minute – well this is rural Derbyshire!

Many thanks to the author for the review copy.

1star1star1star1star

In Bitter Chill – Sarah Ward

In Bitter Chill blog tourTitle – In Bitter Chill

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.

1star1star1star1star