In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

In Bitter ChillBampton in Derbyshire, 1978. Walking home from school, two girls, Rachel Jones and Sophie Jenkins, are lured into a stranger’s car. Rachel returns home with little memory of what occurred but Sophie disappeared without trace. Rachel has tried to move on with her life, but the ghosts of the past become vividly real when, thirty years later, Sophie’s mother apparently commits suicide in an hotel room.

Detective Inspector Francis Sadler and his team, DS Damian Palmer and DC Connie Childs, are prompted by the sudden death to re-open the original case but when a body is discovered in the woods where Rachel was found all of those years ago, it seems that someone is determined to keep the secrets of the past buried. But with both the police and Rachel hunting for the truth, can the truth possibly remain hidden?

I’m reasonably sure that most bloggers reckon they have a book inside them. I think I do at times, although by the time I’ve thought about actually writing something, I’ve changed my mind about what I want to write about. So congratulations to Sarah Ward from Crimepieces who has actually managed to write such a book. And get it published with Faber and Faber. And it’s damn good as well.

It’s always interesting to read the praise from other reviewers and authors at the back of books. This book is compared favourable to Scandi-noir, Ian Rankin and Elizabeth George. Well, in my humble opinion, I think those comparisons don’t really match up. It’s nowhere near as dark as Scandi-noir – there is darkness at the heart of it but unlike, say, Snowblind, there is plenty of light in the tale as well. The leads – Sadler, Childs and Rachel – while having issues, they are not remotely self-destructive like Rebus can be. And it’s not over-emotional overlong twaddle like the Elizabeth George books that I’ve read.

What we do have here is a extremely well-written police procedural mystery with the addition of an independent investigator, the two stories weaving in and out of each other. The mystery is cleverly layered with small parts of the tale being revealed along the way to keep everything moving forward without giving the game away until the end. While I spotted the central idea about two-thirds of the way through, I was still a long way from the big picture until it was revealed. The complex plot reminded me of Kate Ellis at her best and regular readers will know that is high praise from me.

The primary characters, especially Connie and Rachel, are strong creations. Sadler suffers a little from the subplot of his love-life that I felt didn’t add much to the story, but this is a minor niggle, and it may well be there to set up things for the next book (there is another one on the way). The other characters are nicely distinctive, all of them adding something to the plot. Ward avoids any obvious  least-likely-suspect problems and there are plenty of red herrings amongst the cast.

All in all, this is a remarkable debut. A multi-layered mystery with strong characters and a dark heart. Highly Recommended.

This copy was provided by the publishers via Netgalley. The book is released in the UK on July 2nd.


  1. Read this last week, and enjoyed it greatly. Reminiscent of the classic cosy mystery (little violence or sex etc – all offscreen), creating intellectual stimulation and deductions rather than visceral physicality of the hardboiled or US style (for reader as well as characters).


    • I found it interesting (and very pleasing) that something with such traditional elements in the tale, without any of the tropes that you mention, seems to be getting such a push over here. In a time of psychological thrillers (which usually only have one possible twist) and Scandinoir that can make you want to cry, you get a gem like this.


  2. Now I am looking forward to reading this book even more. Don’t want to read too many reviews before I get the chance to read the book, but this one is very good.


  3. I’ve seen a lot of comments on Twitter about this book. I wasn’t sure but given your comparison with Kate Ellis, who I adore, I am putting this one on my list to read!


    • I’ll admit that reading it in the first place came from blogger solidarity – the primary comparison that I’d seen was to Scandi-noir, which isn’t my thing. But the Kate Ellis comparison, with family history replacing archaeology, seems to be the closest match to me. Hope you enjoy it!


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