The Scandal by Mari Hannah - book review: Well-paced, superbly plotted and hard-hitting, this is Hannah on her very best form

The Scandal by Mari Hannah
The Scandal by Mari Hannah

If you’re looking for a dynamic police duo with originality, class and a wicked brand of northern humour, then Mari Hannah’s Stone and Oliver series has these winning ingredients… in spadefuls!

The Scandal is the third outing for the two perfectly matched Northumbrian detectives and it’s a stunner… an enthralling, edge-of-the-seat thriller which seals this award-winning author’s reputation as one of the nation’s most exciting and talented crime writers.

Hannah is a former probation officer with an in-depth knowledge of detective work and her gripping, action-packed murder mysteries, including the brilliant DCI Kate Daniels books now in development as a TV series, have become legendary for their authentic police and forensic detail, masterful plotting and superb characterisation.

Star players are two very different detectives, each with a troubled past. Frankie Oliver is a feisty, straight-talking, third generation Geordie cop, and her charismatic boss, David Stone, is a super-smooth operator, back on home territory after 15 years with the Met.

Their fascinating, ever-evolving partnership lies at the heart of this series, complementing and driving forward each new case but never distracting from the action or the riveting detail of the police investigation.

Here we find the pair called out to a side street in Newcastle city centre in the run-up to Christmas after a young man is found dying from a single stab wound.

It looks at first like a botched robbery but when DS Frankie Oliver arrives at the crime scene, she is shocked to discover that she knows the victim, Corchester Herald court reporter, Chris Adams, aged 32.

Frankie grew up with Chris, the mixed-race kid from across the street who came from a troubled home.

His mother had become a hopeless alcoholic after the death of Chris’s father.

With no weapon found and no eyewitnesses, DCI David Stone and the Murder Investigation Team are stumped but then they learn from his distraught mother that when Chris went out, never to return, he was secretly working on a scoop.

All she knows is that it was a ‘public interest’ case that would ‘make his name’ and that a mystery woman was helping Chris with the story.

But what was the story he was investigating, and who was trying to cover it up?

As the police battle to solve the killing, it’s a personal and emotionally fraught case for Frankie who has always regarded it as her job to ‘inhabit the lives of those murdered in order to understand their death.’

When the murder team uncover a link to a missing woman that turns the investigation on its head, it soon becomes clear that this case is more deadly than they had imagined and that other lives are now in the firing line…

Hannah, who lives in rural Northumberland with her partner, an ex-murder detective, has put murder, mystery, and the wild and wonderful North East landscape firmly on the map in these gritty and atmospheric Stone and Oliver books.

Hannah’s forensic detail and police procedural is reliably and breathtakingly real as we tag along with the detectives and witness Stone’s now familiar team members trying to make sense of a trail of clues, revelations, and unexpected twists and turns.

Stone and Oliver’s complex and compelling relationship continues to seduce readers, and form the bedrock of the books.

The perfect foil for each other, the duo are like ‘an old married couple’ with their tit-for-tat banter and occasional all-out rows, but they remain a tight unit, each respecting their partner’s abilities and professionalism.

But this acutely observant writer always treats us to penetrating insights into all of her leading players, making us privy to their emotional turmoil, their pain, their frustrations, their insecurities, and their secrets.

In The Scandal, Hannah is also unafraid to tackle some contemporary social issues, like policing shortages and rough sleeping, all viewed against a backdrop rendered tantalisingly dark and menacing.

Well-paced, superbly plotted and hard-hitting, this is Hannah on her very best form.

(Orion, paperback, £7.99)