Review of The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner (Ebury Press, 2013)
1989. University student Dani Lancing was kidnapped, raped and murdered. The event shattered lives of Jim and Patty, her parents, and Tom, her best friend who wanted to be more. 2010. Jim and Patty have separated. Jim still lives in the family home with the ghost of Dani. Patty has given up her career as an investigative journalist to work for a charity, Lost Souls, who help families who have lost loved ones. Tom is now a Detective Superintendent, running a specialist unit that hunts for the killers of women. The legacy of Dani’s death still drives their daily lives. When Dani’s case is placed on the secondary list for a cold case unit, Patty regains hope of discovering her daughter’s murderer. Forensic science means that it might be possible to get a DNA match. Employing a private detective she finds out who the prime suspect was in the case and a way to get the police sample. All she needs now is a sample of blood. Her obsession to administer her own form of rough justice initiates a dangerous set of events that neither Jim or Tom are able to halt.
The Last Winter of Dani Lancing tells the story of parents shattered by the loss of their daughter, how they cope in the aftermath, and their pursuit of justice. Dani disappeared from her University lodgings to be found dead three weeks later. Nobody was arrested for the murder. Twenty years later her mother, a former investigative journalist, is driven by a need for answers and revenge – she not only wants to find the killer, but to exact an eye-for-an-eye punishment. Her husband has retreated into being a recluse, living with the ghost of his daughter, who he interacts with continuously. Her former best friend, Tom, is a senior police officer known as the ‘Sad Man’ due to his empathy with the dead and their families. Viner tells the story of each in a sympathetic voice that reveals their hurt and loss, and there is a strong, intense emotional register throughout the tale. This is heightened by the use of a temporally broken narrative, the storyline jumping back-and-forth from the early 1980s to the present day. This produces a strong sense of character development and provides glimpses into key moments in each of their lives. The plot is interesting and engaging, but as it progresses a series of unlikely coincidences and reveals start to appear, with the links and backstory of one character in particular being a series of convenient plot devices. The result is a tale that spins into a thriller for the denouement, but one that has elements that seem out of kilter with the rest of the tale. Nonetheless, a good read, especially with respect to the emotional register and character development.