MW Craven’s Washington Poe series features two highly unusual and creative characters: Poe himself, whose origins he wants to unearth, and Tilly Bradshaw, the sheltered genius who works as a civilian analyst and can run rings around any computer or hacker.

Starting the series off, which won multiple awards including the CWA Gold Dagger Award in 2019, is The Puppet Show, which introduces the suspended detective Poe.

In Cumbria, a serial killer had taken to burning people alive amongst the many stone circles in the area. There is no forensic clue left, and no doubt in anyone’s mind that these victims suffered terribly before their deaths. The press have dubbed the killer the Immolation Man.

On suspension from the National Crime Agency for a previous decision, and enjoying his time at the croft he’s bought in rural Cumbria, Poe and his springer spaniel, Edgar, have settled into a routine that doesn’t include policing one whit. Then his former sergeant, Stephanie Flynn, now in his old position as DI, shows up at the croft and proffers an Osman Warning.

When police receive information that a person is in significant danger, they issue an Osman Warning, which informs that person of the threat against him or her.

Flynn explains that her best civilian analyst at the Serious Crime Analysis Section has found multiple slashes on the third victim’s chest, which a multi-slice computed tomography has revealed, despite the heavily charred tissue, as spelling out “Washington Poe.”

Back working the case as a sergeant under Flynn is not only a new experience, it brings Poe into contact with Tilly, a young woman whose brain has allowed her to advance through universities and degrees at a young age but who has missed any chance of having a youth, and the social clues that go with it.

Tilly is direct, follows orders to the point of rudeness, and the smartest person Poe has ever met, with a mind that sees patterns. This is whom Poe will grudgingly come to respect in their hunt for the madman setting people on fire after torturing them.

The plot is carefully constructed, a real tour de force, as Poe and Tilly, aided by Flynn, try to find the thread that connects the victims. The resolution is as startling and sad and it is inventive. No wonder it won the CWA Gold Dagger!

Carven followed this series debut up with Black Summer, another compelling plot that seemingly has no solution.

One of Poe’s old cases put a celebrity chef, Jared Keaton, behind bars for life for the murder is his daughter, Elizabeth, despite no body being found. Poe had recognized the man as a psychopath and convinced the CPS and a jury that the man had killed his own daughter.

Then a young woman turns up at a police outpost and claims to be Elizabeth Keaton, abducted and kept prisoner for years. Blood DNA proves she is telling the truth. How is this possible, if is?

And if Elizabeth is alive, Poe is in deep trouble when the young woman once again disappears. Now he’s suspected of killing Elizabeth. Once again, he will depend on his own smarts and those of Tilly to figure out the workings of a psychopath.

The third installment finds Poe and Tilly investigating a strange case of body parts left in different parts of Cumbria with only the message “#BSC6” accompanying each one.

It appears some victims received anesthetic before being separated from their body part, while others were not. The only clue Tilly can unearth is that each victim took the same two weeks off work several years earlier. Then an FBI agent horns in on their investigation, saying that in the US they’ve had similar deaths.

It’s a slim lead, but it’s all they have to work on. Using the victim’s lives as the catalyst, Poe and Tilly will find their way through the labyrinth plot.

As the relationship between Poe and Tilly relaxes, he helps her grow her social graces while she grows to be someone he and Flynn can depend on. All three books in the series show original plots, based on the characters and their histories, and with such creativity that Auntie M is anxiously awaiting the next outing of Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw.

This entire series is Highly Recommended.