HQ | 2018 (8 March) | 351p | Review copy | Buy the book
Lawyer Peter Hamilton is found dead, poisoned, in a cave in the Derbyshire Peaks. His isn’t the first body to be found inside this cave system. It’s a favourite place for suicides and its history is steeped in legend and superstition. To some, it is cursed and so, too, are those found within its shadows. But Hamilton’s death is not straightforward. Chiselled into the wall of the cave, close to the body, is a portrait of the Grim Reaper along with the dead man’s initials. These were carved over a century ago.
DI Meg Dalton is new to the job. She wants to start afresh, to leave behind a past that has left her with a limp but also phobias and fears. She’s found an ally in her partner DS Jai Sanghera but it isn’t easy to establish herself in this largely male team when she seems to be such a magnet for mishaps and troubles. It doesn’t help that she’s starting to feel paranoid, that perhaps someone is following her. But the main challenge comes from the family of Peter Hamilton and those of his colleagues. Everyone has their secrets, their alibis all too easily proved lies, there must be something behind it all, something other than the curse that everyone keeps talking about.
The Devil’s Dice is Roz Watkins’ debut novel and the first to feature DI Meg Dalton. It is absolutely fantastic. I read two thirds of it in one sitting. I gobbled it up and I now know that these books will go straight to the top of my reading pile in the future. It’s so exciting to discover a new favourite author!
This novel excels for all the right reasons, but firstly for Liz Watkins’ wonderful writing. This is the sort of prose that dances along so naturally. It’s full of little humorous asides, which poke fun at human nature. The dialogue sparkles. And then there’s the setting – the Derbyshire countryside provides such a stunning and dramatic backdrop. I love the portrayal of the Peak District in Stephen Booth’s novels and it works just as well here. The caves are terrifying. I could feel the claustrophobic panic levels rise. It’s a desperate place. The weight of the curse certainly adds to the mood. What a place to end up in.
The plot is brilliant. I was totally wrapped up in it. I didn’t guess how it would develop and I loved every step of the way.
And then there’s DI Meg Dalton. How I love Meg. I even love her cat. Meg is a superb creation, completely believable and extremely likeable. She might have her demons but she’s determined to get on with her life. She continually picks herself up and, if somebody gets at her, she’s more than happy to fight back. It’s not surprising that Jai likes her so much. She carries her burdens of guilt like many women and I really empathise with how she copes. Her relationships with her mother and grandmother are so beautifully and realistically portrayed. So we get some big themes but it is by no means all doom and gloom, on the contrary. Meg and Jai are great together, even when faced with the prospect of heading into the depths of a treacherous cave system.
I can’t praise The Devil’s Dice enough. It’s a marvellous, confident and assured debut and clearly heralds the start of a fantastic new series and a long career. I really enjoy reading debut authors – there’s always the chance that you’ll find a keeper. I certainly have with Roz Watkins.