Book review: Playing with Fire by Kerry Wilkinson

Playing with Fire by Kerry Wilkinson
Playing with Fire by Kerry Wilkinson

Preston’s Kerry Wilkinson may have started his writing career as an ‘accidental author’ but there is nothing random about the runaway success of his Detective Jessica Daniel crime series.

Wilkinson’s debut Locked In, the first title in these hard-nosed crime stories set in the heart of Manchester, was written as a challenge to himself but, after self-publishing as an ebook, it became a UK number one bestseller within three months of release.

And now he and his detective are becoming a popular double act with a publishing deal, successive books riding high in the Amazon charts and brash, chippy Jessica evolving into a complex and fully-rounded personality.

Plotting, high drama and characterisation are becoming the hallmarks of the Lancashire sports journalist’s thrillers which juggle crime mysteries with the very personal fortunes and misfortunes of the ebullient DS Daniel.

Playing with Fire is the fifth book in the series and is a multi-stranded page-turner which was inspired by Wilkinson’s personal experiences of being caught up in a house fire.

Jessica Daniels certainly has her work cut out in her latest case. Seven years ago a very drunk Martin Chadwick set fire to a Manchester pub which he thought was empty. What he didn’t know was that 21-year-old Alfie Thompson was sleeping inside and was burned to death.

Chadwick, who admitted manslaughter even though he couldn’t remember setting fire to the pub, is now due to be released from prison and predatory journalists are gearing up for a good old-fashioned media lynching.

The victim’s volatile father is also telling the papers he is out for revenge and Jessica has been assigned the job of keeping a watchful eye on Chadwick and his fiery eighteen-year-old son Ryan.

And if that wasn’t not enough to keep her occupied, private investigator Andrew Hunter is doing a fine job of interfering, it looks like a schoolgirl suicide ring is in operation and the endless rain continues to pound her northern home.

There is also the not insignificant problem that her engagement to live-in boyfriend Adam, who is keen to set a wedding date, is not working out as she had hoped.

And while Jessica’s personal life and professional life are increasingly in the balance, she has less and less time to focus on the shadowy figure who seems intent on burning everything to the ground…

Clever, intriguing and full of dramatic but believable twists and turns, Playing with Fire certainly turns up the heat in this best-selling series.

(Pan, paperback, £6.99)