Three members of a family found dead in a locked, burning house… is it a classic murder-suicide, or are there more sinister forces at work?
Welcome back to Bampton, the small town nestled amongst the dark brooding hills of Derbyshire’s Peak District where murder, malevolence and a hint of the macabre have become the trademark of one of England’s most exciting new crime novelists.
A Patient Fury – follow-up to In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw – is the third outstanding thriller from Sarah Ward, a reviewer and Scandinavian crime fiction judge who has taken a leaf out of the books of some of the world’s most famous crime writers and put her own brand of Derbyshire noir firmly on the reading map.
And this gifted writer is certainly turning heads with her powerful DC Connie Childs mysteries which star a feisty but impetuous young detective whose moods are often as unpredictable and stormy as the skies above the rugged limestone peaks.
Ward’s superb police procedurals have an atmosphere all of their own and it’s not just the majestic but creatively menacing backdrop, and the superb evocation of insular, small town Bampton… these fast-paced, character-driven stories put the spotlight firmly on the cruel complexities and human dramas that lie behind family life.
Back from sick leave but still recovering from the trauma of her last investigation, DC Connie Childs is dragged from her bed to a fire-wrecked house in Bampton’s Cross Farm Lane and knows as soon as she steps out of the car that this house contains death.
Three bodies are found inside… the ageing Peter Winson, his much younger Italian wife Francesca and their five-year-old son Charlie. Peter and Charlie have been bludgeoned to death while Francesca’s body hangs behind the ruined window, ‘slowly revolving in a sickening dance.’
As far as DI Francis Sadler is concerned, the grisly deaths all seem to point to one conclusion… there is only one murderer and that is Francesca. But Connie, determined as ever to discover the truth behind the tragedy, is unconvinced that a mother would slaughter her own child.
As the police probe further into the family history, they discover that Peter Winson had two children from his first marriage… Julia, a tour guide at a nearby cave, and her cold, truculent brother George, a local antiques dealer who appears to be constantly angry.
Julia is afraid because on the night of the fire, she saw someone hanging around outside her house, and the mystery deepens when police records show that Winson’s first wife disappeared without trace in 1980.
Very soon, Connie realises that it is the fourth body – the one they cannot find – that holds the key to the mystery at Cross Farm Lane. But as she goes it alone, what Connie fails to spot is that her determination to unmask the real murderer might cost her more than her already frail health. This time she could lose the thing she cares about most… her career.
Evil is never far from the surface of this chiller-thriller which probes into the darkest and most disturbing recesses of a family’s secrets but A Patient Fury is so much more than just a routine whodunit. Ward moves into top gear to deliver an immaculately plotted murder mystery with a deeply human core and a descriptive elegance that transcends much contemporary crime fiction.
As each character develops through an enthralling investigation and an ingenious series of twists and turns, the reader is drawn into the labyrinthine maze of one dysfunctional family’s secrets which explode across the story in a shower of slow-moving and shocking revelations, and move inexorably to the devastating dénouement.
As always, the Derbyshire peaks cast a long shadow over events as Ward explores some of today’s most contentious issues in an unsettling story that sees the tenacious DC Connie Childs dig into the past and the present to unearth the truth behind the tragedy.
Impressive as standalones but best enjoyed in sequence, these terrific novels confirm Sarah Ward’s status as one of our best, upcoming northern writers.
(Faber, hardback, £12.99)