Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review of In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward (2015, Faber & Faber)

1978, in the small town of Bampton in Derbyshire two young girls, Sophie and Rachel, are kidnapped on their way to school.  A few hours later Rachel is found traumatised but unhurt.  Sophie is never found.  Thirty years later and Sophie’s mother commits suicide.  Superintendent Llewellyn, who was a young constable working the original case, decides to use the suicide as a pretext for re-examining the investigation into the girls' disappearance.  For Rachel, now working as a genealogist, it re-opens old wounds and places her once again in the media spotlight.  To DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs, it appears that the original investigation was performed competently.  Their investigation, however, changes direction when a retired teacher from Sophie and Rachel’s school is found strangled in local woods.  At the same time, Rachel starts to employ her genealogist skills to investigate why she might have been the victim thirty years previously and why her friend’s mother and school teacher are dead.

In Bitter Chill is the debut novel of Sarah Ward.  Following in the tradition of Scandinavian crime fiction the story told is a rather understated police procedural that focuses on the present day repercussions of a tragic crime committed thirty years previously.  As such, as much attention is paid to family and community members as to the police team, and there is no lead character as such, with the narrative mostly split between two police officers and the surviving victim from the original crime.  The characterisation is quite nicely done, there is a good sense of place, and the plot is for the most part well constructed and measured, though the ending was a little melodramatic and to me at least there was something off with the timeline regarding one character.  Overall, a solid British police procedural that should appeal to fans of Scandi crime fiction.

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