It was one of Washington Poe’s most complex cases. A murder without a body. Poe was convinced that Jared Keaton, the celebrity chef, had murdered his own daughter. Despite the lack of a body, Elizabeth’s disappearance soon became a murder enquiry, and Keaton became Poe’s prime suspect. The case was successful, and Keaton began a life sentence in prison. But Elizabeth was never found…
… until six years later, when she walked into a library, where the police were holding a drop-in session. Elizabeth Keaton was alive. Jared Keaton was innocent. And Poe was wrong. And it seems things are going to get a lot worse for him very quickly indeed.
I reviewed The Puppet Show last week – an absolutely cracking book, apart from the brief bit about the testicles – because I had this lined up. It is so often the case that when books are praised as much as The Puppet Show seems to be, I end up disappointed by it to various degrees. For example, as much as I enjoyed Steve Kavanagh’s Thirteen, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all a bit silly. But The Puppet Show delivered on all counts – a well-plotted edge-of-the-seat thriller, coupled with a whodunit, plus a what-the-hell-was-going-on ideal. And while the villain’s plan is hugely complicated, it didn’t seem that way while reading it – just in hindsight. And that is the art of a great mystery/thriller writer – pulling the reader along with them without making them look over their shoulder during the ride.
But on to Black Summer. We’ve moved on a little from the end of The Puppet Show, but Poe finds himself dragged back to Cumbria by the Keaton case, bringing along Tilly Bradshaw, the probably-autistic analyst, now apparently Poe’s best friend (and vice versa) and heading up her own team of analysts. Oh, and Edgar the dog, he’s back too, even if he misses out on any really character development. Shame.
It’s nice to read about a maverick cop whose colleagues actually trust him, and who he trusts. Rather than keeping secrets and “going rogue”, he has a team around him that believe in him, and even learn to trust him after mistakes made during the Immolation Man case. Yes, Poe has issues, but they always play in support of the narrative, rather than replacing it.
And the plot is a cracker. With the reader kept guessing all the way through as to who is doing what to who, it’s a genuine page-turner, just like its predecessor.
If I had a niggle, I’d have liked to have seen a little more of Tilly in the narrative – the focus is always on Poe but Tilly seems in this one to be relegated to more of a supporting character, rather than almost a co-lead as she was in the first book. In that one, her relationship with Poe (and indeed almost everyone else) was still developing, whereas here she seems much more sorted and accepted. Hopefully next time round (and Book Three is on the way), she will get a little more development.
But apart from that minor niggle, this is just as outstanding as the first book. This has rapidly become my favourite new crime fiction series, so roll on Book Three! And presumably the author finding a third way of doing the testicle thing…