#Bookvent – Celebrating my top reads of 2021
My day thirteen #bookvent 2021 selection is part of a series and one which really made it’s mark with some rather memorable and somewhat grizzly murders. Each new instalment has delivered on the mystery and drama stakes, but as much as I love the darker side of the fiction, it is the humour of the central characters and the unexpected, incomparable, chalk and cheese kinship of the two central characters who really make this series an absolute winner. In theory, they shouldn’t work – one unwaveringly literal, the other as direct and uncompromising as they come – but they are crime fiction heaven and deservedly loved by readers and award panels alike. My thirteenth pick is …
Dead Ground by M.W. Craven
Detective Sergeant Washington Poe is in court, fighting eviction from his beloved and isolated croft, when he is summoned to a backstreet brothel in Carlisle where a man has been beaten to death with a baseball bat. Poe is confused – he hunts serial killers and this appears to be a straightforward murder-by-pimp – but his attendance was requested personally, by the kind of people who prefer to remain in the shadows.
As Poe and the socially awkward programmer Tilly Bradshaw delve deeper into the case, they are faced with seemingly unanswerable questions: despite being heavily vetted for a high-profile job, why does nothing in the victim’s background check out? Why was a small ornament left at the murder scene – and why did someone on the investigation team steal it? And what is the connection to a flawlessly executed bank heist three years earlier, a heist where nothing was taken . . .
Poe and Tilly. Tilly and Poe. I don’t think I can imagine reading about one without the other anymore. The books are all packed with tension, action, mystery and, best of all, laughter. Dead Ground is no exception. Whilst the original murder is quite tame by MW Craven’s standards, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a softening of the edges in his taut, often gritty series. Nothing is ever what it seems with a Washington Poe investigation and this is no exception. After the shocking finale to his previous case, you’d be hoping the guy could catch a break. That’s not going to happen either. The author is just not that kind and readers are all the happier for it. Drawn into an investigation that has big political implications, and with a significant threat of disruption in his private life, you’d forgive Poe for being a little off his game. He’s not, and watching him get the measure, and the better, of the secret government agencies who try to draw him into their world really is a thing of beauty. The parrying and barbs back and forth between Poe and Alastor Locke was so much fun to read, and I hope and pray that this is a partnership that gets revisited in a future tale. But we mustn’t forget Tilly, whose very nature is so matter of fact that she can be unintentionally delightful and always brings a smile to my face when she pulls Poe into check. She is very much his conscience, but with all the guts and intelligence to match his instinct and brawn. She and Poe are irresistible as a team and I love to fall back into their world.
Beyond the mystery, murder and politics, the story takes a more emotional turn, the author taking us deep into the world of the military and the Afghanistan war, an environment that most of us would only really know from what we have seen on the television. It informs rather than overwhelms the story, but it is an important interlude, and the way in which the violent history of the war is woven into the narrative is authentic and accessible, and with the author’s own employment history you can understand why. You get a sense of the tension and the emotional impact of the conflict, but only in a way which enhances and drives the action of the main investigation. This book story really did keep me guessing to the end. With emotion infused throughout, a good deal of tension, good pacing, top notch characters and a whole heap of misdirection, this book delivered an ending that was very, very satisfying. Most definitely recommended.
Happy #bookvent reading all