Dark Truths (2019) by A J Cross

When a headless body is found on a local jogging trail, DI Bernard Watts and his understaffed and underfunded team are quickly called in to investigate. What begins as an horrific murder quickly becomes more complex as more remains are found – those remains being much older, but clearly linked to the current death.

As DI Watts and his new assistant officer, Chloe Judd, struggle to find links between the cases, Watts finds things getting more and more complex – not helped by Judd’s over-enthusiastic methods, as she is desperate to prove that she can do the job assigned to her, to the detriment of the case. Oh, and there’s a criminologist who shows up called Will Traynor who somehow manages to get his name on the cover.

This takes me back to when Sarah Ward’s first book, the excellent In Bitter Chill, came out. The copy I had billed it as the first Inspector Sadler mystery, but DC Connie Childs was the most interesting character in it. Other people clearly agreed, as the series is now markets as the Connie Childs series. Traynor did not really catch my interest – he’s a tortured criminologist who can solve every case apart from the disappearance of his wife. It’s brave to do the same background idea as that of the immortal Adrian Monk. Of course, I don’t know where A J Cross is going to go with that story in the future, but as a set-up, it didn’t grab me.

Luckily, DI Watts is a good lead, with no major issues apart from a bit of impatience, and I found his relationship with the pathologist rather sweet. Chloe is the character who, for me, brought the book to life – her desperation to succeed, and the reasons behind it made her a distinctive character and one that I would want to read about again.

The plot works pretty well, although at times it struggles to maintain focus in the central section. With a number of apparently unrelated deaths, it is hard to keep an eye on where things are going, and you could make, I think, a good case that links between two of them should have been picked up very quickly, leading to the killer a lot sooner.

There is distinct promise in this series, depending, of course, on which characters the author chooses to focus on. Personally, I’d stick to Watts, Judd and Chong (the pathologist) – they have the ability to hold a series without the need for Traynor, but it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

Dark Truths is available from Severn House on September 30th. Many thanks for the review copy.

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