River of Souls | Kate Rhodes | 2015 | 324p | Mulholland Books | Review copy | Buy the book
Jude Shelley, the daughter of a cabinet minister, was left for dead in the Thames some months ago, her face sliced off, her hold on life almost entirely ripped from her grasp. The police investigation reached a dead end, tangled up by a mix of red herrings and lost leads, but now it is alive again. The killer is back – an old priest has been murdered, his face cut away and, like Jude, an old artefact reclaimed from the river attached to his drowned body. He won’t be the last. Jude’s family, a powerful family, are determined to discover the truth and they ask psychologist Alice Quentin to work with the police to find Jude’s attacker, soon, they dread, to be her murderer. This means that Alice will have to work once again with DCI Burns – Alice and Burns have a past. It won’t be easy to work together but both trust the other to stop at nothing to uncover the truth. Just as well, the body count is rising.
River of Souls is an extremely atmospheric and chilling read. For most of the novel we’re inside Alice’s head, experiencing her thoughts and emotions through the first person narrative. But every so often the murderer emerges and for those brief moments we’re in a much more terrifying place – watching the killer pick his victims or, as he believes, waiting for the river to select its dead. The murderer is obsessed by the Thames, the bodies are found in it, located at places resonant with history, such as old execution grounds or places of ancient sacrifice. The Thames holds the whole story together and it makes for an effective backdrop, even more so if you know London yourself, as I do. It’s such a powerful setting – you can smell the river, feel its mud underfoot, sense its history.
I haven’t read any of the other books in the series but it didn’t matter at all. Alice and Burns are intriguing figures, quite complex and unconventional. Their relationship – or their failed relationship – isn’t laboured, it doesn’t interfere with the plot, but it does introduce an interesting story thread into the novel. I hadn’t met either character before but I cared for them both very quickly while also becoming rather irritated by some of the choices that Alice makes through the book. I did enjoy the relationship that Alice has with her mother and brother. There is a lot going on here and it enriches the novel, rather than distract from it.
I had a couple of issues with the book, one of which I’ve already hinted at. Alice can’t seem to have an interaction with any man without it developing into something she might regret later on. The other problem was the archaeological detail – we’re given one-thousand-year-old prehistoric ‘sharpened’ flint, 6th-century Roman glass (neither of which are possible) and an archaeological survey on the Thames shore that seemed much more like beachcombing and treasure hunting. My archaeologist background probably meant that this jarred far more for me than it would for many but it did throw me out of the novel on a few occasions. But fortunately the story and the characters proved more than strong enough for me to keep turning the pages.
The most powerful and memorable part of River of Souls for me is the character of Jude. Jude’s story cannot fail to tear the heart, even more so because she is hurt by every one of the other attacks that the killer makes. Alice and Burns have to find the culprit, for Jude, if for no other reason. I did guess the killer quite early on but this didn’t matter at all because I could never be quite sure.
River of Souls is a tense and pacey murder mystery which succeeds especially well in its strong sense of atmosphere and in its characters, especially Jude, Alice and Burns. Because we care for them the pages turn all the faster. I loved the London setting and the sense of place. I’ll certainly be looking out for Alice Quentin – and Kate Rhodes – in the future.
This review is part of the blog tour to mark the release of River of Souls on 18 June. For other stops on the tour, please do take a peek at the poster.