Friday, August 2, 2019

Review of An Empty Death by Laura Wilson (2009, Orion)

Summer, 1944. The Blitz is over but London is still being hit by doodlebugs. DI Ted Stratton and his wife Jenny head to aid those affected when one lands two streets away, Ted helping to dig Mrs Ingram from the rubble. The next day he’s called to investigate the death of a doctor from the Middlesex Hospital. He’s been found dead on a bomb site and it appears he’s been murdered. For mortuary attendant Sam Holt, Dr Reynold’s death is an opportunity to take on another identity, one he’s been working up to for years. He changes his appearance, assumes someone else’s identity and finagles his way into a job as a casualty doctor, learning the trade on the go and from books. His life is looking up, especially after he starts to date a pretty nurse. However, he hadn’t anticipated the tenacity of DI Stratton to solve the murder, or that others might see through his disguise. Having come so far, Dr Dacre is prepared to protect his new life, even if that means killing anyone trying to expose him. Meanwhile, Ted is getting tired of his wife and her sister caring for Mrs Ingram who appears to be suffering from a rare mental illness after her traumatic rescue. 

An Empty Death is the second book in the DI Ted Stratton series set in London during the Second World War. In this outing, Stratton is investigating the suspicious death of a doctor on a bomb site. His nosing around the hospital that Dr Reynold’s work at quickly ruffles feathers and spooks one doctor in particular – Dr Dacre is an imposter that has used Reynold’s death to pass himself off as a medical doctor and take over his position. Meanwhile, Jenny Stratton is helping to care for a bomb victim who is suffering from mental health issues, creating tensions at home. Wilson tells the tale as three main strands: Stratton’s investigation, Dr Dacre’s perspective, and Jenny’s care of Mrs Ingram. Wilson patiently unfolds the plot, in particular fleshing out the main characters and filling out their backstories. The pace is a little slow at times and the Ingram strand felt a little bolted on for much of the story, but eventually it comes into its own as the three strands are pulled tight. Rather than finish the story at the main climax – which is a twist with real affect – Wilson does a nice job of letting it continue to unfold to another twist and natural denouement, though this one was telegraphed from a long way out. Overall, an engaging police procedural with emotional depth.

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