‘Little Boy Blue’ by MJ Arlidge (@mjarlidge) – The case gets very personal for Helen Grace

DI Helen Grace is back with a murder investigation which brings the action, once again, uncomfortably close to home for our tortured heroine.

Down in one of the private rooms of Southampton’s notorious BDSM club ‘The Torture Rooms’, the body of an unnamed man is discovered, seemingly smothered in what appears to be a case of edge play gone wrong. As Grace and her team begin to investigate, it becomes clear that this was no accident, and as the identity of the victim is revealed, Grace realises that the victim is a face from her past. He was someone she had been close to once, and someone whose connection to her she cannot afford to be revealed. Unfortunately for Grace, it is not only the killer who knows of her relationship with the victim. Her nemesis, journalist Emilia Garanita also knows her secret and will stop at nothing to expose and embarrass Grace.

The BDSM community closes ranks, loathe to speak to the police for fear of their lifestyle being exposed. With their investigations leading nowhere the team are in trouble. The bondage equipment was purchased with a cloned credit card, the delivery made to an abandoned address, and their only evidence, DNA found upon the victim, leads them down a very short path to a very dead end. When a second victim is found, someone else that Grace knows on a private level, she begins to wonder whether the simple BDSM connections between the pair are purely coincidental, whether there is someone targeting people in the lifestyle, or whether there may me a more personal motive behind the killings, one which will put Grace in the most precarious position of her career. IN the face of increasing evidence against her, will all of her team turn their back on her, or do any of them still believe in their mentor’s innocence?

Written in Arlidge’s usual style, the chapters are short and punchy, the action driven on very quickly from scene to scene, keeping the reader hooked and wanting to ‘just read the next chapter’. The mental turmoil that Grace goes through in battling her very private feelings towards the first victim, her hatred of the second and the overwhelming feeling of becoming increasingly trapped in the investigation is well written, as is the breakdown of her normally cool exterior as she begins to argue with and dress down her junior officers in a most uncharacteristic way. The jealousy between Sanderson and newly promoted DS Brooks also rings true, as both jostle for position as Grace’s natural deputy. As ‘the new kind on the block ‘Brooks is consumed by a need to prove herself, and Sanderson is threatened by Brooks relationship with Grace.

The story itself, is one of revenge, taking the team into a world that Grace knows a little of but had tried to keep separate from her professional life. With her usual route of escapism now closed to her, Grace does begin to unravel, and it is interesting to see how Arlidge has chosen to develop the relationship between Grace and her superior, Gardam. As was evident in the end of ‘Liar Liar’, he has more than a passing fascination with the DI and when Grace reaches out to him to dconfess her links to the victims, he sees this as something far more than she intended. With Grace ultimately shunning his advances, will Gardam stand by her when the chips are down, or will he too turn his back in the name of revenge.

The murders are cruel and painful, the killer knowing that the victims will have been very aware to their last breath, the fate that awaits them, and the reader knowing the fear that would have paralysed them even as they fought the inevitable. That said, the action is around the act of preparing the kill and the discovery of the body, still clear enough to make the reader understand the implications of what the victim went through. The book ends on a kind of cliff hanger and readers will have to wait until the next one to find out whether or not Grace is able to salvage her career in the midst of some very serious allegations.

I have to say, this is probably my favourite of the books to date and I don’t think that any fan of the series will be disappointed. Yes, the action takes us into the world of BDSM which some might not like, but it is not excessively offensive or descriptive. This world seems to be a key theme in a whole host of mainstream books these days, but it has always been an underlying theme in this series as Grace had relied on the release of being dominated to deal with feelings of guilt from her past. It was only really a matter of time before this part of Grace’s life took centre stage, and in reality the story still only touches on the very periphery of the lifestyle. The identity of the killer may come as a surprise, although looking back, there are hints throughout the story, but the intimate and personal connection of the killings to Grace is considerably less of a surprise, as from the moment the identity of the first victim is revealed, you know this is more than just another case for the team. I can’t wait to see how the action unfolds in the next book.

5 stars