Strangers by Paul Finch

Strangers | Paul Finch | 2016 (22 September) | Avon | 405p | Review copy | Buy the book

Strangers by Paul FinchMen are being killed brutally in Manchester, one after another, the victim of a serial killer who shows no signs of losing the taste for murder. But the evidence suggests that this is not your usual serial killer. The murderer is a woman and it takes no time at all for the media to label her ‘Jill the Ripper’.

Lucy Clayburn has been a PC in the Crawley area of Manchester for ten years and she is desperate to make detective, working harder and for more hours than anyone else, her colleagues becoming younger and younger. But PC Clayburn has become notorious for a mistake she made years ago, when new to the job. But she will not give up. When the chance comes to go undercover as part of the massive investigation into Jill the Ripper, Lucy jumps at it, giving little thought to the extreme danger she could be placing herself in, especially when she decides to do some extra digging on her own and discovers something that should make her run a mile. But Lucy Clayburn isn’t like that. She’s drawn to trouble like a moth to a flame. It’s only a matter of time before somebody gets burned.

I love Paul Finch’s novels. His Mark Heckenburg series is compulsive reading. I cannot get enough of Heck. It’s true that when I first heard about Strangers I jumped up and down at the thought that Heck was back but any disappointment at discovering that this is the introduction of a new police officer died a quick death as soon as I read the first chapter of Strangers (what a beginning!) and then I fell in love with Lucy Clayburn. I say ‘introduction’ and I really hope that this is what Strangers is. I need much more of this.

I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot of this novel except to say that it is utterly engrossing, making Strangers next to impossible to put down. Darkness walks through these pages. It’s moody. The setting and themes are at times grim, the people we meet often desperate, and, intriguingly, many of the most evil or disturbed characters have a charismatic side to them that makes them unusually fascinating. But the star of the piece is Lucy – she is brilliantly drawn. Her back history is integral but it isn’t laboured, it works within the story, and she is fully three-dimensional from the beginning. She does have a rather irritating habit of acting first and thinking second but this is backed up by her personality which has been so well developed. Her behaviour feels believabale even if at times it feels ridiculously reckless in a police officer who wants promotion (or, indeed, in a human being who wants to live to make forty).

Above all else, as you’d expect from a Paul Finch novel, Strangers is a fun, exciting and disturbing murder thriller that left this reader at least wanting much more from Lucy in the future – and from Heck. From them both, please.

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