I cannot tell I lie. I have not read this book from cover to cover. There is a very good reason for that. This is the first book I have ever purchased an audio version of and I listened to 80% of it while on my road trip to Scotland. All I can say is that I remember all of the story and very little of the drive … (I probably shouldn’t be confessing that here but there you go). I vaguely remember Carlisle (possibly) or it might have been Gretna. I know I definitely passed a sign for The Borders and some very lovely little black lambs (aww – only noticed as I had a few spare seconds in between chapters), but otherwise I was too absorbed in the tale to tell you much of what else happened along the 300-mile journey, the book was just that good. It certainly made the journey pass by a lot quicker, that I am sure of.
‘Don’t Turn Around’ is the first in a trilogy of stories about DC Jennifer Knight, a police officer with an unusual talent. She is able to hear the dead. While interviewing a drug addict regarding a stabbing, an eerie voice tries to communicate with Jennifer from ‘beyond’ but she ignores it, telling herself that what she heard wasn’t real, that she has just been spooked by an off-hand comment made about her mother. When the same man later turns up dead, it is the first in a series of deaths, all seemingly lacking in foul play, the only link being an interaction of each of the victims with DC Knight. Yet each of them bears an uncanny resemblance to a case from the past. When investigations bring the action very close to home for Jennifer, she has to decide if she is willing to sacrifice herself to ‘The Grim Reaper’ in order to save someone she loves very dearly.
Intertwined with the story of the present day investigations, are flashback scenes of a young boy called Frank, whose father left home when he was still very young, leaving him with a neglectful mother who never really wanted him. We follow Frank as he ages, seeing the effect that his mother’s lifestyle has upon him and the way in which one simple act of kindness by a woman named Gloria has a profound impact upon the man he is to become.
This is not a simple crime novel, and the element of the supernatural cleverly and skilfully existing alongside the everyday police procedure. The story moves along at a fair pace and the cold persona of ‘The Grim Reaper’ is chillingly portrayed without ever being overly gratuitous. His motivations are clear, at least in his own mind, his methods of dispatch, varied. The description of setting it very good and I can probably tell you more about Haven and the surrounds than I can what I saw along the M6 (whoops).
The character of Jennifer Knight is well rounded and believable, her flaws, such as her tendency towards OCD not being too overplayed and she is a very likeable character. There is also an interesting dynamic between Jennifer and her co-worker Will, and you get a strong sense of the nature of their friendship, the natural flow of their banter very believable and down to earth. Also the mysterious Ethan, whose own motivations are well hidden until the end of the story, is intriguing to say the least, not least because of his unusual taste in books.
Being a bit of a crime/thriller and horror/supernatural story fan, I loved the combination of the genres within this book. It is easy to overcook the otherworldly elements, or to oversimplify them, particularly when the interactions are largely around only a single character, but in ‘Don’t Turn Around’ for me the balance was just right. I was raised on a balanced diet of Stephen King, Mr Men (no bearing on this I just really liked them), Famous Five and Scottish Ghost Stories and I like to have a little touch of the pre-conspiracy theory ‘X-Files’ style of book in my library. This one gave me just that.
I’ve read book three (excellent by the way) and now book one which is getting a highly recommended and well deserved 5 stars from me. Onwards to book two me thinks. (Well. I always have been a little mixed up ;-))