Sunday, 5 February 2017

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

In Bitter Chill is the debut novel by Sarah Ward and was published in 2015.  It is set in the Derbyshire Peak District and features Detective Inspector Francis Sadler and his team. The story begins with the suicide of a woman in a local hotel in Bampton.  It turns out that the woman's daughter Sophie was kidnapped, along with her friend Rachel Jones, in 1978.  Although Rachel managed to escape, her friend was never found.  Rachel only has vague reminiscences of the kidnapping and has tried to put the event behind her. She now works as a genealogist having done her university dissertation on the female line of her family.

The detectives start investigating the cold case but are taken off this when a woman's body is discovered in Truscott woods. She has been murdered and Sadler is convinced that this murder is linked both to the kidnapping and also to earlier events.

The plotting was very clever and I liked the way that the two stories were intertwined.  I also liked the structure of the book which allowed us to understand what Rachel was feeling as well as following the police as they tried to unravel all the various strands.  The characters are well drawn and believable - Sadler is a relatively normal police officer but we feel he does have a hidden side to him. 

The title of the book was very apt as the descriptions of the weather added to the atmosphere.  "Sadler glanced at the clouds moving quickly across the sky, mimicking the speeded-up images you sometimes saw on television.  No need for artificial trickery in the Derbyshire Peak District though.  That spine of rolling hills and gritstone edges that traversed the middle of England ended in Derbyshire, in a landscape of heart-stopping beauty.  When you could see it, that was."

This is a story of family secrets and what happens both while they are kept hidden and when they are revealed.  This was an excellent first novel and I am looking forward to reading Sarah's second book, A Deadly Thaw, which was published in 2016 and features the same police officers.

I have heard Sarah Ward speak at both Shetland Noir and Iceland Noir where she made very interesting contributions to the panel discussions.   She has a blog called Crimepieces where she reviews crime fiction.   

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