Dark Water | Robert Bryndza | 2016 (20 October) | Bookouture | 341p | Review copy | Buy the book
DCI Erika Foster is on a mission. A well-known drug dealer is in custody and she has just a matter of hours before she must find the evidence to charge him or let him go. She’s had a tip off that a substantial haul of drugs worth millions has been hidden at the bottom of a quarry lake just outside London and now divers are trawling the dark water. But this is an unusually deep lake, it can hide all manner of sins, and when the divers come to the surface they bring with them the skeletal remains of a young girl. It’s not long before she’s identified as seven-year-old Jessica Collins who disappeared 26 years ago. Jessica’s disappearance was major news at the time and Erika knows that this will prove to be a high profile discovery. But, more than anything else, Erika is driven to find out the truth and find justice for Jessica, despite the risk that this coldest of cases could drive another nail into the coffin of Erika’s career.
Dark Water is the third of Robert Bryndza’s novels to feature DI Erika Foster but it is, I’m sorry to admit, the first that I’ve read. There are references to the previous cases, hints that not all has gone well in the past despite Erika’s successes, and then there is the matter of Erika’s husband, but, despite this, I was able to enjoy Dark Water for its own sake. This novel stands very well alone and I was immediately drawn to Erika Foster and her team.
In this new case, Erika must work with people she knows as well as officers she doesn’t and this leads to all sorts of tension in the investigation. This isn’t helped by the involvement of police who worked on the original case and won no glory for it. There are people here with a great deal to prove and it is all done under the close scrutiny of Jessica’s grieving family as well as senior police officers who are determined that this new investigation will prove beyond all reproach.
The mystery is an involving one and it is matched by the quality of the writing. Dark Water is a very well-written crime novel. Despite the all-too familiar advertising claims that this is a thriller with a ‘killer twist’ (I really wish this kind of thing would stop – it does a book no favours at all), this is a novel without gimmicks. It focuses instead on sound storytelling, all driven by great characters and what feels to the uninitiated to be perceptive insight into the workings of a cold case. Mind you, this is a cold case that gets warmer by the minute.
Erika is a fine character, three-dimensional, real and hugely likeable for all of the faults that have done her career such harm. It’s clear she has quite a past and we’re treated to some hints but there’s obviously much more to be revealed about Erika Foster. I also enjoyed her interaction with her team and empathised with how grumpy they could make her on occasion. She feels very real.
If I had to have an issue with the novel it would be that I found its pace stalled a little towards the middle and, although the characterisation never failed to move the story on, I would have liked a bit more momentum at times. Nevertheless, Dark Water is a compelling, clever read that focuses on a mystery with a great deal of depth and darkness. I loved getting to know Erika Foster and I have every hope that I’ll be enjoying her company for a long time to come. Fingers crossed!