A Deadly Thaw | Sarah Ward | 2016 | Faber & Faber | 377p | Bought copy | Buy the book
In 2004 Lena Fisher is arrested for the murder of her husband Andrew, whom she is accused of suffocating in their home in Bampton, Derbyshire. Lena pleads guilty and serves twelve years for the crime. In 2016 a man is found shot dead on a slab in a mortuary that hasn’t seen use for decades. Dental records prove that the victim is Andrew Fisher. Lena, recently released from prison and living under her maiden name of Gray, refuses to answer any of the inevitable questions that follow the shocking and puzzling discovery. Instead, Lena disappears, leaving her sister, therapist Kay, to make sense of it all. With clues turning up in the most unnerving of ways, Kat has every reason to worry.
DI Francis Sadler, DS Damian Palmer and DC Connie Childs have their hands full trying to unravel the mystery of Andrew Fisher’s resurrection and second death and soon find themselves re-investigating the original murder case from 2004, a case that now threatens the careers of the officers who originally took part. As they dig deeper into Lena’s secrets, hidden for so many years, they must face the reality that the person who shot Andrew Fisher is still at large.
I was so impressed last year by Sarah Ward’s debut In Bitter Chill, which introduced us to her charismatic and handsome trio of detectives. I predicted at the time that this was an author and series to watch and how right I was. But whereas In Bitter Chill was an impressive debut, A Deadly Thaw is an outstanding and extremely confident and assured novel. I’d go so far as to say that A Deadly Thaw is a nigh on perfect piece of detective fiction.
For one thing, the plot is fantastic. It’s complex and so intriguing and the conclusion does it justice. I felt completely overwrought at the end. It’s clever but it’s also thrilling. I couldn’t have read this book slowly if I’d wanted to. The novel weaves together so well the two investigations – the police inquiry and the more personal hunt by Lena’s sister into their past. This means that the reader sees a little more of the whole picture than the characters but that doesn’t mean that we know it all – on the contrary.
The characters are extremely convincing. Kat plays a key role but, as with In Bitter Chill, I couldn’t get enough of Sadler, Palmer and Connie. You don’t need to have read the former novel at all to appreciate this one but I think that watching the shifting dynamic between these three will prove a real highlight of the series.
If I had to think of a fault with A Deadly Thaw then I’d be out of luck because I can’t come up with one. Sarah Ward is a fine writer of detective fiction and puzzles, great with characters and also with pace and tension. A Deadly Thaw is to be thoroughly recommended.
In Bitter Chill