Title: Secrets of the Dead
Expected publication: 30 May 2017
The community of Lichfield is rocked to the core when the body of a young mother is discovered murdered in her bathtub, clutching a receipt for £250,000, stating “all debts paid”. Who could do such a terrible thing? The case lands on the desk of DI Robyn Carter, who feels like she has bitten off more than she can chew. A few days ago, the mutilated body of a young bar manager had been found with a similar receipt on his body. At first, there is nothing else to connect the two victims, and Robyn is at a loss where to start her enquiries. On top of all this, she is already running a clandestine investigation into the death of a local spa owner, which has been ruled accidental by her colleague (and arch-enemy) DI Tom Shearer but appears suspicious to Robyn. With three dead bodies on her hands and no concrete leads, Robyn feels the pressure as the press are having a field day, dubbing the perpetrator the “Lichfield Leopard” and fuelling public fear. She knows she will have to deliver something to her superior soon in order to save her career – and to prevent the killer from striking again.
There are a lot of detective series out there, and to stand out, a novel needs that certain something to make it memorable for me. I really loved the original idea of invoices found on the victims’ bodies, which added an intriguing element to an otherwise straight-forward police procedural. But whilst I enjoyed the story and the line of the police enquiry kept me interested, I was missing the one gasp-out-loud element that would make the book stick in my mind and put all past and future books in the series on my wishlist. DI Robyn Carter had all the elements of your archetypal flawed detective, and yet it appeared to me as if her demons were forced upon rather than owned by her. Grieving for her dead husband – tick. An over-the-top work ethic which takes over her life – tick. Conflict with a colleague – tick. Employing questionable tactics to get the job done – tick. I cannot put my finger on why these didn’t work for me, when the same elements seem so compelling in other fictional detective characters, such as Rob Bryndza’s Erika Foster, or Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan. Robyn felt constructed to me somehow, lacking the emotional depth her flaws were aiming to give her. Some aspects of her life, such as the relationship to her step-daughter, seemed like unnecessary fillers which added nothing to the story for me. Perhaps I should have read the first book in the series to get the necessary background to her character?
Over years of devouring all kinds of murder-mysteries with an insatiable appetite for new and original characters and plot lines, I have discovered that I am generally not a fan of books where there is too much narrative from the perspective of the killer. I gather from reading reviews of the author’s first book that she likes to give glimpses into the perpetrators’ past to explain their descent into madness and crime. And there are indeed A LOT of chapters from the perpetrator’s POV, starting from his traumatic childhood to his present life. Personally, with a few exceptions, I prefer the killer to remain an enigma that is slowly being unmasked by the police enquiry. Delving into the killer’s childhood in detail may explain the state of his mental health, but do I really need to know his whole sorry life-story? Does it add value to the plot or contribute to the feeling of mystery and suspense? In this case, for me, it didn’t. Giving the killer a mental health issue with overused phrases like “he could feel the red mist descending” just reads like it could have been copied and pasted from countless other similar stories. Not my cup of tea at all, but thankfully all readers are different and no doubt the very things that vexed me will work well for others.
Secrets of the Dead is a solid police procedural with some original ideas which will undoubtedly appeal to a lot of readers. Whilst it made for a pleasant, fast read, it was lacking the elements that make it stand out from the fray, though, and I am not sure if I will come back to read any more books in the series.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel and giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.