Constable | 2018 (7 June) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Lake District has more prehistoric stone circles than almost anywhere else – a bounty indeed if you’re the type of serial killer who likes to display your incinerated victims in the middle of one.
Detailed scans of the remains of one victim reveal a name cut into his chest, the name of Washington Poe, a former Detective Inspector in the National Crime Agency and now demoted to sergeant following a scandal that has left him suspended for a year now. Poe has spent the year in peaceful retirement, with his dog, in an isolated croft in the Lake District. He doesn’t want to go back to work. But when Stephanie Flynn, his former sergeant now promoted to his former job, asks him to come back and investigate ‘The Immolation Man’, Poe realises that he wants nothing more. Especially when the clues suggest that the fifth victim is to be Poe himself, and they’ve already found victim number three.
The Puppet Show marks the beginning of a new crime series by M.W. Craven and it is absolutely fantastic from start to finish. This is such a great story, with gory crimes committed by a truly nasty killer that nevertheless take place against one of the most dramatic and beautiful backdrops in Britain. Cumbria is a delight in this novel. We explore so much of it with Poe and his dog. The weather, its isolation, its community, the ancient landscape, all play their part.
But even more than the story and the setting, this is a novel that sings with life due to its brilliant characterisation. Poe and Flynn are wonderful people to get to know. There might be a little tension due to their reversal in roles but it doesn’t affect how they work together. In fact, Flynn seems far better suited to the role of sergeant despite the fact that there are times when he goes off and chases his own theories with no thought to others. Well, no thought to others except Tilly, the team’s analyst. And Tilly is the particular joy of The Puppet Show. This young woman with Aspergers is a delight, completely adorable, unpredictable, funny and precise. For some reason Tilly and Poe become an inseparable team and I will make sure I read anything in the future that they appear in. I also loved the contrast in their policing methods, with Tilly always looking at the details while Poe thinks instinctively. I am so pleased to hear that Tilly will return to play another major role in the next novel.
I love M.W. Craven’s writing. It’s witty and humourous, at times chilling and disturbing, and he tells his story with such art and skill, filling it with people you want to get to know while giving us a baddie that scared me to bits while letting me enjoy the scenery. This is one of those crime thrillers that ticked all of the right boxes for me. More, please!