Today i’m delighted to share my thoughts on Her Last Breath, the second book in the Sullivan and Mullins series by Alison Belsham. I’m a little late to the party on this one, although partly by design, as Mandie will be reviewing the third book, The Embalmer, in a couple of weeks so it seemed like perfect timing to review books two just before. This is a series we both love and in which the stories get twistier and the action more exciting with each page turn. Before I tell you what I think, here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
A gripping new detective series set in Brighton for readers who enjoy Peter James’ Roy Grace series.
When a young woman is attacked and left fighting to survive in hospital, the police are pulled into a race against time to save her life. But just 24 hours later, she dies and a deadly tattoo is discovered on her body.
And when another young woman disappears, Detective Francis Sullivan and his team fear a serial killer walks the streets of Brighton.
His team identify a suspect, Alex Mullins, son of Francis’s lover, Marni. Can Francis forget their shared past and save the next victim before it is too late?
If you didn’t already know then I should probably advise that Alison Belsham is an author who pulls no punches. Her murders, fictional of course, are gruesome and very very inventive, and probably not for the faint of heart. That said, little of the action takes place on the page, but readers are left in no doubt as to the really heinous nature of the killers at large. You have been warned. To be honest, after the very unique nature of the murders in The Tattoo Thief, I did wonder how she would manage to come up with a suitably dark and twisted story a second time over. I needn’t have worried though as she most certainly did, and it appears there are no ends to the depravity of the murderous souls in Brighton. And I always pictured it as a lovely, if somewhat busy, seaside town too …
We join this story quite some time after the events of book one, although the author manages to intertwine the two tales as Francis Sullivan and Marni Mullins are waiting to give testimony in the trial of the eponymous Tattoo Thief. As if finding herself caught up in one grizzly murder case wasn’t enough, Marni is pulled back into Sullivan’s world when her son, Alex’s, girlfriend is attacked and left for dead after walking out on him in a nightclub. Now the savvy reader will know simply by the extent of the injuries, that he’s not really a viable suspect, at least in the eyes of this reader, but he’s the only one the police have and that means trouble for Marni and for Sullivan. Some of the scenes in this book kind of put me in mind of a particular season of the TV show Dexter, and if you are a fan of it, you’ll understand what I mean. There is a very strong theme, and very clear undertones to the attack which put this above your average lover’s tiff, but I don’t want to say too much as it may lead to spoilers. For me, it pointed my attention in a very particular direction, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story.
There are some very personal moments in the novel for both Sullivan and Marni, and not just surrounding the impending trial. Sullivan is left reeling after a personal loss, which affects his normal focus whilst at work, and with forces working against him both inside and outside of the team, he really does have a bit of a torrid time in this story. I like Sullivan. He’s definitely a troubled soul, quite stoic and straight laced, but there is something about the way in which Alison Belsham has developed his character that makes me want to see him succeed, against all adversity. And there is plenty of that. Likewise, Marni is really up against is, and not just because of the suspicion Alex. A face from her past returns to stir up big trouble and her turbulent friendship with Sullivan is really put to the test here. This pair really are chalk and cheese, and yet together they really work. Whilst it may appear that Marni’s role in this story is simply the angsty mother, she still plays a vital role in uncovering a clue to the attackers true identity, one which is hidden within passages throughout the story, stories from the past, designed to instill doubts i the reader, something it does quite successfully.
This is a fast paced, action and tension filled read that I absolutely blasted through, finishing i a single afternoon. If you like your crime fiction on the darker side, but still with great characters, a very human aspect to them and will a truly compelling storyline, then you really need to sink your teeth into these books. If you’ve not read The Tattoo Thief yet, I really do recommend you start there. I’m off to devour The Embalmer, so to speak. Cannot wait.
About the Author
Alison Belsham initially started writing with the ambition of becoming a screenwriter-and in 2000 was commended for her visual storytelling in the Orange Prize for Screenwriting. In 2001 she was shortlisted in a BBC Drama Writer competition. Life and children intervened but, switching to fiction, in 2009 her novel Domino was selected for the prestigious Adventures in Fiction mentoring scheme. In 2016 she pitched her first crime novel, The Tattoo Thief, at the Pitch Perfect event at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival and was judged the winner.