Sarah Ward’s debut In Bitter Chill brought her to reader’s attention quickly last year. After years of reviewing crime fiction, including acting as a judge for the Scandinavian translated crime novels’ Petrona Award, she has turned her hand to writing her own series, causing Booklist to call her “. . . a writer to watch.”
She returns with a second entry in the Derbyshire series, A Deadly Thaw, and fans of her first will be happy to know it’s every bit as well-written and suspenseful as her first. She brings back the compelling Bampton team of DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs, plus other members who will have an impact on the story to investigate this unusual case.
The setup is creative and pulls the reader in immediately. Lena Grey has just been released from prison after serving fourteen years for smothering her husband, Andrew Fisher, in their bed. But then Andrew’s recently killed body is found in an old morgue.
Once the identification is complete, the questions become overwhelming: Who was the man in Lena’s bed all those years ago, and why would she lie about his identity and spend all of the time in prison? Sadler’s team must uncover why this deception could have been pulled off, while Childs is convinced it took more than a bad marriage and a lover for Lena Grey to take prison time. But Lena vanishes, leaving questions unanswered and the investigation to flounder.
The team will be led to Lena’s sister Kat, a therapist living in their childhood home, who can’t explain her sister’s actions then or now. Then Kat starts receiving packages from a young man, and based on their contents, he must know where Lena is hiding. She starts searching through their lives, looking for answers in her family’s secrets, conducting her own investigation.
Those secrets hold the key to the mystery and it will be up to Sadler’s team to put the pieces together. Distractions from personal issues within the team threaten to disturb their cohesiveness and ability to figure out the truth, but add layers of complexity to the story.
Ward’s plot is complex and well-executed, with twists and turns that make red herrings fall like so much litter as one reality becomes another. This is gripping, with an edge that makes for compulsive reading. Highly recommended.