Now there is nothing I enjoy more than a full-blooded crime thriller, one that is both entertaining and gritty with fabulous characters and an all consuming plot line. I got all of that and more when I finally got round to listening to the audiobook of MW Craven’s The Puppet Show last summer. I like to think of myself as fashionably late to the party but, in truth, I was just basically hopeless and way behind the times … Not this time though. To celebrate today’s paperback launch of this oh so fabulous book, I thought I’d share my review with you all in case you missed it the first time around.
Welcome to the Puppet Show . . .
A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.
When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.
Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.
As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …
Oh. Oh, oh, oh. Now anyone who knows me, (that’s about three people – all siblings – but trust me this is actually true) knows that on occasion I do delight in reading a book which is a little on the darker side. I like a bit of cosy crime from time to time, I like a good old fashioned Detective thriller (amongst my favourites) but I also like, and I mean really like, those books which take my favoured Detectives and take them to the edge of my go to genre as a child – the horror novel. Now, I don’t mean horror in a ghosties and ghoulies, oh look there’s a vampire kind of way, but the kind that taps into the darker side of human nature, preferably without venturing into the gratuitous or just plain nasty. There have been a few books these past few years which have ticked all of those boxes for me, and I am very happy to be able to add The Puppet Show to that list.
Now I don’t know what exactly I was expecting when I picked this book up, but I’d heard good things about it from so many authors and readers and I was intrigued. It felt like there was a great set of characters to get behind and the story sounded like it was right up my street, and so I gladly added it to the TBR list. The opening of this book leaves little doubt as to how this story is likely to progress, and we are quickly introduced to the killer’s modus operandi – torture first and then death by fire. But as the tale evolves we learn that there is much more to the kill than first declared and that there is a rather unique signature with somewhat unpleasant connotations. I don’t want to say any more about that, as to me you need to read the book for yourself and slowly unravel, not just the story, but the clues as they are drip fed to you, as they are done so in a very skilful way.
What I did find though is a rather interesting and perhaps slightly unusual cast of characters, starting with hero of the piece, Washington Poe, a disgraced former Detective who is reluctantly dragged back into the investigating team due to an unexpected clue found upon one of the victims. We also have a very unlikely heroine, and possibly one of the greatest characters I have read in a long while, Tilly Bradshaw. It is her discovery which brings Poe back to the fold as it were. Poe is a straight talking, no-nonsense kind of guy with a very keen sense of right and wrong. He cannot abide bullies and will defend anyone he feels is a victim by whatever means necessary. His friendship with Tilly is unorthodox and they are truly mismatched, and yet there is something so absolutely right and believable about it too.
Why is it unorthodox? Well, Tilly is a rather unique character. She is quite literal in all interactions, obsessively so. She is sheltered, perhaps a touch too naive for her new role alongside Poe, but she is also refreshingly honest, lacking the ability or skill to lie effectively to anyone. Her innocence is appealing but her intelligence fierce and she is able to see patterns and understand things that no-one else can. Between them, she and Poe are brilliant and their interactions provide some very humorous moments, Tilly lacking the social filter we tend to take for granted and saying exactly what is on her mind. She is intelligent, wise beyond her years, but also stronger than people give her credit for. She’s fab.
The pacing in the story is spot on, balancing the complex but perhaps slower speed of the investigation against some really high tension, high stakes moments where your heart will be in your mouth. Plotting is tight, the story complex and twisted, with so many false leads and moments of misdirection that sometimes you find yourself doubting what you think you know and other times you are so absolutely positive you are right, only to have the wool pulled over your eyes once more. Now I won’t deny that there were one or two clues which gave me a bit of an inkling as to where the story may lead, but there were also some things in there that I missed too, that the author had hidden so perfectly, that I found myself with an overwhelming feeling of doh! as I listened to the end of the book.
Combining a great dose of the perfect police procedural with gripping and complex story, featuring brilliant characters I found myself immediately drawn to, and providing the perfect balance of touches of light humour and the very dark nature of the central storyline, this is a book I would definitely recommend. I can’t wait to read more about Poe and Tilly when it’s sequel is released next year. That seems an awfully long time away …
Can you tell I liked it? Trust me, Washington Poe and Tilly are a fabulous pairing and you don’t want to miss out, so if you would like to read The Puppet Show for yourself it is available now from the following retailers. Go get it. You know it makes sense.
About the Author
M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full-time author. The Puppet Show, the first in a two-book deal he signed with the Little, Brown imprint, Constable in 2017, was released in hardback in June 2018.