"A Deadly Thaw" by Sarah Ward
In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.
A year after Lena's release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.
Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth - before there's another death . . .
Ward had me hooked immediately.
Ward packs a punch with her opening line as "A Deadly Thaw" starts with a Lena and an anonymous man in bed together. I was as hooked by Ward's description of the "white incandescent light" from the man's mobile phone as they lay in the dark, and the "distended" shadow thrown against the wall that Lena soon realises is a second device. A discovery which makes her pick up her pillow, place it over his head and push.
What really intrigued me about this novel was that by the fourth page, we have witnessed a murder, realised it happened in 2004 and we are now in 2016, found out who did the murder and that they have served a prison sentence then a second body has turned up -a body of the man they thought had been murdered over a decade ago....... Starting the book with a murder scene when the victim is anonymous is not that usual for a crime novel, but starting the book with the knowledge that not only had this murder already been solved and the perpetrator has even served their time, this man was supposed to already be dead - now, this really is an intriguing point from which to start a novel.
And, not only has the perpetrator been found guilty and served her time, we then find out she was the victim's wife. Why did Lena want to kill her husband? And if it wasn't her husband who was it? Why did she lie?
"We're looking at a miscarriage of justice here if his wife served time for his murder. Who gave the positive ID?"
"His wife Lena."
Oooohhhhh such an exciting way to start a book!
I had not only been caught with the 'hook' of this book, I had been attached to the line, cast far into the air and then sunk to the bottom of the murky water completely immersed in the mystery and left lurching forward through the pages to grab on to the clues and hints that Ward laid before me.
Then Lena goes missing. What happens when your apparent lead protagonist -who has already committed one murder and whose husband has just turned up dead 12 years after he has already been murdered and buried- then disappears?
For me, the best thing about this book was the exciting premise and the unusual starting point. It felt a bit different and also shows us that Ward is a writer that can create, manage and successfully pull off a multilayered plot. She is able to write a story which encourages you to become engaged with several characters and then able to pull all the various different strands together in a dramatic finale. It is an accomplished piece of work.
I liked the title of the novel. I think the image of things being frozen and gradually thawing out to reveal their true shape, history, characteristics is really fitting for the storyline. I also think it captured the atmosphere and pace of the book. Lots of of things are revealed early on in the plot and then the police and Lena's sister, Kat, gradually begin to chip away at the 'ice'; gradually start to uncover the clues, the secrets, the lies until they can begin to piece things together. The last quarter of the book increases in pace and dramatic tension, racing along to its conclusion as the 'thaw' finally lifts.
Ward's characterisation is very good. I liked all the little hints that nothing was as it seems. The reader is kept guessing about Lena Fisher throughout the entire novel and I liked the way we weren't sure whether she had actually committed murder in 2004 or whether she was covering for someone, whether she was guilty or whether she was a victim, whether she was in danger or whether she was deliberately evading the police. As Ward reminds us we can never take things on face value or believe what we are told. As one of the characters mysteriously tells us:
"We're good at keeping secrets round here. You won't get far taking what everyone says at face value."
As well as an intriguing set up and the mystery surrounding Lena, Ward has also developed her detectives. I enjoyed the sub plot between Childs and Palmer and getting to see Sadler again. I felt that I engaged with them and related to them and thought the romantic tension between Childs and Palmer worked well as a point of interest, making them more relatable and accessible to the reader but also subtly highlighting the themes within the book and the events which led to Andrew Fisher's death.
I also liked Kat, Lena's sister. As a therapist she is well trained in dealing with the trauma and psychological issues of her clients but how does this prepare her to deal with her sister and the traumatic events she finds herself caught up in? Ward has created a solid character here who worked well as a bridge between Lena and the police - between the emotional side of the murder and the practical side of the investigation.
This is both a police procedural and a psychological thriller. This has a very human feel to it and the reader is able to become involved in the personal lives of the victims and the detectives. There are many points of tension and suspense and the final denouement is dramatic and very rewarding. This is Ward's second novel and I thought it was even better than her first. I will be eagerly watching out for her third as her writing feels stronger and her storyline tight and polished. It was a great read!
"A Deadly Thaw" by Sarah Ward is published on 2nd February 2017 by Faber and Faber.
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