After You Die | Eva Dolan | 2016 | Harvill Secker | 380p | Review copy | Buy the book
When a gas explosion blows apart a house in a small village, it reveals far more than the police could ever have expected. As they check the neighbouring house they find a woman dead, brutally murdered with a knife, while upstairs lies a young woman – a girl, really – who, unable to leave her bed due to paralysis, has died from abandonment. The stabbed woman, Dawn Prentice, is known to the Hate Squad. She’d been receiving threats in response to her support for the right to die campaign. Little could be done and now, here they are, mother and daughter, murdered, dead. The Hate Squad’s DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are called in to head the investigation, both still bristling from their own recent horrendous experiences. But all that seems to count for little beside the fate of Holly Prentice, a sporty schoolgirl who fell during a rock climb with the result that she could do nothing to save herself when her mother lay murdered. All she could do was wait to die.
Zigic and Ferreira are confronted with the full devastating and crushing impact of Holly’s accident on her family and those who love her. An ever-widening circle of people feeling guilt, anger, pity and fear. Holly’s life changed for good but so, too, did Dawn’s, not least because her husband ran into another woman’s arms for comfort. But there’s another story to tell here as well. Nearby lives Julia, Dawn’s close friend, who looks after foster children. One of them, Nathan, is a very special boy indeed, and, when he runs away, Zigic and Ferreira are frustrated by an obstructive wall of silence from powers that far outrank their own authority.
After You Die is the third novel in Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreira series and it is outstanding. This is crime fiction at its very best, a novel that’s driven forward not by the crime at its heart but by the people it most affects. It is dramatic and tense but more than anything else it is character-driven, insightful, brilliantly and sensitively written, and clever. It works well as a stand alone novel except that it does reveal a little about the previous case in Tell No Tales, especially in its impact on Ferreira. But nevertheless I do think After You Die works well on its own, although this certainly shouldn’t stop you reading the two previous novels.
It is good to spend time with our two detectives again. Little bits of their homelife creep into the story but the emphasis throughout is on their working relationship and their personal reaction to the matter at hand – the murder of Dawn Prentice and the resulting fatal neglect of her daughter Holly. The case is treated with enormous empathy. But it’s no black and white affair. Eva Dolan draws realistic portraits, people are complex, secretive, misleading and flawed. Alongside the depiction of Holly we have another young person in trouble, Nathan, and this is beautifully done, it’s painful and often moving. A whole range of relationships appear here, all perceptively presented by Eva Dolan. These people feel real and all have been deeply affected by Holly’s original injury. Not all of them have dealt with it well but the author still leaves room for us to care for them.
After You Die presents an entirely satisfying and pageturning mystery that also does the reader the great service of making them think and feel. There are surprises and shocks along the way, as well as moments that horrify, but it is the people who matter here – both the investigators and the investigated – and the fact that they are all so fascinating and curious makes this one of the most involving crime novels I’ve read in a long time.
Tell No Tales