Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK - Michael Joseph for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I voluntarily agreed to review.
Although this is the second novel in the DI Erica Martin’s series and I haven’t read the previous one, I did not find this detracted from my ability to enjoy the novel.
The story, set for the most part in Durham, in the North East of the UK, follows DI Erica Martin’s team as they investigate a bizarre death, that of a somewhat special preacher cum TV celebrity. The novel is narrated from a variety of points of view, mostly in the third person, although there are also parts in italics that at first, we don’t know who they belong to or whom they address (they seem to be a letter of some sort). Although Martin’s point of view dominates the action, we also have the points of view of other members of her team, and other characters, including the victim and the many suspects. In my opinion there is clear differentiation between the different points of view that helps the reader to not get confused, and each segment is clearly separated, so although I know some readers don’t appreciate head-hoping, due to the complexity of the case and the way the investigation develops, the change of points of view serves the book well.
Martin is a capable woman, also blessed (and cursed) with a strong intuition, but somewhat distracted by her impending divorce and her burgeoning relationship with her superior, Sam Butterworth. She’s a good boss, understands her team and has a good relationship with them, and is sympathetic and has her heart in the right place. Although we get to know a bit less about the other members of her team, Jones is also a reliable and likeable character (and high up in Martin’s esteem) and it’s a breath of fresh air to have a police team where everybody seems intent on doing the best job they can and there’s no corruption or shady motives. It’s true that Martin’s capacity for empathy and her reaction to the complications and the revelations of the case affect her personally, but, at least for me, that’s a bonus rather than a weakness.
The family of reverend Snow (although his church sounds more like a cult than a benign church) and those close to him hide many secrets, and the more layers that are peeled away, the worse things get. I read one of the reviewers commenting the Snows are a dysfunctional family. It’s possible there might be some more dysfunctional than this one, but it’s pretty high up on the ranking. If what we learn from the church’s functioning is bizarre and scary, in some ways this pales in comparison to the intricacies of the family relationships.
The plot is carefully crafted, with red herrings and many suspects that are highlighted and then dismissed, and although it might be possible to have some suspicions, things aren’t as clear-cut as most readers might suspect at first. I don’t think thriller and mystery readers will be disappointed with the plotting side of the story.
Although there are some violent scenes and descriptions of wounds and injuries, they are not extremely graphic. On the other hand, some of the topics of the book might be distressing for readers (as there is violence against children and women), and the bizarre behaviours and states of mind (that merit quite an in-depth psychological discussion) make it a hard book to read and one that will cause much discussion.
The writing style is easy to follow, descriptive enough to make the different characters believable, with changes in rhythm (not always frenetic, but it flows and ebbs with some contemplative and precious moments too), and very well chosen quotes from Euripides’s Medea.
A good novel for those looking for a British police procedural book, well-crafted, with a complex plot, likeable characters that also encompasses challenging topics. I for sure wouldn’t mind reading more of Erica Martin’s cases.