Today I’m sharing my thoughts on The Hunting Ground by Will Shindler, book three in the Alex Finn series. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Finn and his team over the course of these books and this was one of my must read books for 2022, my pre-order going in as soon as I saw it available. My thanks to publisher Hodder & Stoughton for the early copy via Netgalley, and to Jenny Platt for the tour invite. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
THE THIRD NOVEL FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE BURNING MEN AND THE KILLING CHOICE, FEATURING DI ALEX FIN AND DCI MATTIE PAULSEN
Sadie Nicholls has been found dead, brutally and strangely murdered, in her South East London flat. Her little boy is missing.
DI Alex Finn and DC Mattie Paulsen know that, in the case of a missing child, it’s the first 24 hours that count. They don’t have many left to find out where Sadie’s son might be and the identity of her killer. Why would anyone want a struggling single mother, loved by many, dead?
But when they realise a similar crime was committed at the same house nearly 20 years ago, a question is on everyone’s lips: is this more than just a coincidence?
This is third in Will Shindler’s Finn and Paulsen series – a British detective series that ranks with Mark Billingham, M.J. Arlidge and Stuart MacBride.
I’ve really been enjoying this series, seeing the development of the two central characters, Alex Finn and Mattie Paulsen. They are chalk and cheese and yet completely complimentary, but over the course of the three books there has been a steady change in their character as more of their personal lives come to bear on the stories, never more obvious than it is during The Hunting Ground. Now, the disappearance of a small child requires the team to be on top form, but both Detectives are distracted, for very different reasons, and seeing the impact of that on the investigation, as well as the investigation’s impact on them, makes for an interesting interlude in what is otherwise a perplexing and tragic case, an investigation laced with deception, misdirection and prejudice.
Not only do the Detectives need to find missing boy, they also need to solve the murder of his mother, Sadie. Now we are privy to the final moments of her life, moments which certainly provide a number of key suspects, even if not all are immediately apparent. But as to whether her final night of work really did lead to something that cost her her life remains to be seen. And if her murder is all about that night, where is her son. The case if further complicated by the twisted and tragic history of the street, and specifically the house, in which she was murdered. The more we read of the book, the more uncertain the motives become and alongside out intrepid investigative team, we are led on a very merry dance, flitting between suspects and potential motives in a very clever and well executed case of misdirection.
I liked the way in which Will Shindler developed that sense of community that threads through this whole story. That. sense of a street that are both completely involved in and yet one step removed from what has happened. Long standing feuds, old hatred, and unbreakable friendships conspire to hide the truth in plain sight really effectively, and I found myself guessing and second guessing who was responsible several times throughout the book. Nobody seemed to be entirely trustworthy, and even when faced with almost certainty of suspicion, certain characters were still reticent in providing the truth, or even a valid alibi. I did guess a certain part of the plot quite early on, but by no means all, and what came to pass was still shocking and completely unexpected. There is a real sense of tragedy about the story, of the senseless nature of what happened, and how it could have all been so different. But there is also an emotional undercurrent, driven not just by Sadie’s murder, but by the very heart of the book and the characters at the centre of our attention.
Finn has always been portrayed as a character on the edge and the way in which the author explores the devolution of his psyche is brilliantly observed. It seems shocking, but also almost inevitable, and marks a step change in the way in which he thinks about and deals with his wife’s death. As for Paulsen, she is preoccupied by her father’s rapidly declining health, something brought into focus by one of the residents from the street whose situation she finds she can completely empathise with. Both stories add an emotional layer to an already tense and tragic story, but both stories serve to propel the central case on in their own way, as both a distraction and a pure motivator.
And then there is that ending. Fluff a duck. Was not expecting that. Made me smile, and grimace, in equal measure. Nicely played Mr Shindler.
I’ll be intrigued to see what is next for our crime fighting pair. Clearly Finn is at a crossroads in his life, a point in his life that calls for decisive action. I’m hoping it’s not the last we see of them, because I really do like them as a team, the clinical, methodical Finn and the slightly more emotional and explosive Paulsen. This was another well observed, emotional and often tense story that is full of deception and I loved it. Definitely recommended.
About the Author
Will Shindler has been a Broadcast Journalist for the BBC for over twenty-five years, spending a decade working in television drama as a scriptwriter on Born and Bred, The Bill and Doctors. His time on these leading prime time dramas has given him a rich grounding in authentic police procedure, powerful character development and gripping narratives. He currently combines reading the news on BBC Radio London with writing crime novels and has previously worked as a television presenter for HTV, a sports reporter for BBC Radio Five Live, and one of the stadium presenters at the London Olympics. He is the writer of The Burning Men and The Killing Choice.
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