PC Lucy Clayburn has spent the best part of ten years policing the streets. A grievous error has held her career back; the force has a long memory and what happened seems destined to follow Lucy for the rest of her career. When she is called on to join Operation Clearway, set up to try and catch a killer, Lucy jumps at the chance, hoping it will give her the opportunity to prove to the powers that be where she really belongs.
A serial killer has been targeting men and the investigations lead to Lucy and a team of other PCs going undercover to try and learn what they can from the girls working the streets. The top brass are convinced that this is where the answer lies, that the girls who sell themselves in the night can provide the identity of the elusive killer who takes a very brutal revenge upon their victims.
But not everyone is keen to see Lucy in the line of fire and resistance comes from the most unlikely of places. Because the op Lucy has been posted on requires her to go deeper undercover than she has ever worked before, putting her deep in amongst some of the worst criminal minds around Manchester. The kind of people who would not hesitate to kill first and ask questions later.
‘Strangers’ by Paul Finch is an absolutely heart pumping, action packed read. From the opening chapter, the tension is steadily built to a crescendo, the more sedentary pace of the investigation giving way to high octane action as Lucy finds herself in grave danger, not once but twice. The story in itself is somewhat unique, the hunt for one of the rarest criminal of the species – the female serial killer – given the unfortunate but possible apt moniker, ‘Jill The Ripper’.
Both the criminal and procedural elements of the story are written with such skill that as a reader you have no issue placing yourself in the thick of the action. From running down a suspect, to witnessing an act of retribution against someone who has been deemed to have crossed the line, the story’s pace is perfectly balanced. In one particular scene, where Lucy find trying to save one of the working girls, Tammy, I could feel my heart rate increasing, my mind well and truly engrossed in the action on the page.
Lucy is an extremely well written and endearing character. Not perfect by any stretch, and capable of making some very stupid mistakes which put her and on occasion her colleagues, in jeopardy, her heart is truly on doing the best she can in her job. You are rooting for her to do well, to succeed in her desire to find the killer, even if you know that her actions are often misguided and doomed to end badly. She is passionate, acts upon a strong intuition honed over years spent working on the streets of Manchester, and she cares about both her colleagues and the victims. This is clearly demonstrated in her relationship with Tammy and her determination to do right by the young girl.
Description and setting were spot on; the narrative explaining the decline of industrial Manchester and the setting in of the new gang culture was very believable. The villains are repugnant enough to be intriguing and there are a few characters among the police, such as Des Barton and even Priya Nehwal, who are compelling and likable, although for very different reasons. There are several twists within this story and enough elements of misdirection to keep you guessing right to the end as to who and why dunnit. It is a tough subject and touches on the periphery of topics which are not pleasant to hear about but happen nonetheless. Nothing in this is story is particularly gratuitous, but enough detail is there to make everything very clear to the reader.
Hopefully this isn’t the last we see of Lucy Clayburn as I think she is a character with a lot of scope, and the unexpected relationships she uncovers throughout this story have plenty of mileage for further conflict and development. Besides, we need to know if she ever gets that job in CID that she craves.
A thrilling and heart-thumping 5 stars.
My thanks to NetGalley and publishers Harper Collins UK, Avon for the advance copy of ‘Strangers’ in exchange for my review. ‘Strangers’ is available to purchase at the following link: