DS Jane Bennett has taken over the South London Lewisham murder squad following the breakdown of her boss DI Mike Lockyer. But when their retired colleague Mark Leech is reported missing and then a young girl is found dead, buried alive within a purpose-built earthen tomb, Lockyer has little choice but to wake up. More disappearances are to follow, Jane and Mike struggling to keep up with a killer who is intent on playing some sort of intellectual game with his pursuers.
The mystery is strong from the very beginning of No Place to Die. It feeds off the reader’s claustrophobic fears. Scattered throughout the narrative are moments from the terrifying experiences of the entombed, of their building thirst, their encroaching numbness and the absolute blackness of the ceaseless dark. It’s very frightening indeed.
For much of the time, Jane Bennett is an isolated figure. She cannot rely on Mike Lockyer, however much she wants to, and her family life is not straightforward. Jane is a single mother who needs her own mother to help her care for her autistic son. This is especially difficult now that she has embarked on a case that will eat into all her spare time. It’s easy to like Jane and likewise easy to worry for her. There seems reason for it. As the novel builds, however, and the number of victims rises, we’re also able to care for Mike as he returns to his former self. Everyone, though, is concerned about missing retired detective Mark Leech and that adds to the fear and the dread of this moody novel.
The author offers a few candidates for murderer, taking us into the competitive world of psychological academia. The clues are there, ready for us to interpret as, at the same time, we sympathise with Jane Bennett’s awkward situation, juggling her own private life with a demanding murder case as well as coping with the problems caused by a psychologically absent boss and a physically absent former colleague.
No Place to Die is an extremely atmospheric and page-turning read. It drags us into the pits of despair, actually inhabited by the victims of these despicable crimes, while fascinating us with the nitty gritty of the police procedural. I really liked Jane Bennett. She combines the roles of mother, detective and caring, confused human being very well indeed. Likewise, Mike Lockyer is also intriguing. The two together, though, provide the novel’s light relief through the easiness of their relationship.
I haven’t read the previous novel Never Look Back but I will correct that very soon indeed.