Born In A Burial Gown (2015/2020) by M W Craven

Shot once in the back of the head and buried on a building site. But for a chance witness, the body of the young woman would have gone undiscovered for years, perhaps forever. But Detective Inspector Avison Fluke is the man charged with finding her killer – but before he can do that, he will have to find out who she was, and what she had done that could lead to her apparently being executed.

But Fluke has other concerns distracting him, not least the extent he has to mask his poor health from his team, and disruptive rivals within the force. And when the case leads in some very dark directions, he finds himself face to face with an extremely dangerous man. And the killer is, quite possibly, even worse…

M W Craven won the Gold Dagger this year for The Puppet Show, an award that the book rightly deserved. There are a couple of very dark, violent bits, yes, but the writing, both in prose and plotting is outstanding, and he created a memorable set of lead characters, so much so that he has his fans on Twitter divided into Team Poe and Team Tilly. So, you might ask, why has he taken a break from the Poe series (currently standing at two books, but he’s well into writing Book Five, iirc) to bash out this and Body Breaker, featuring this Fluke bloke?

Well, he hasn’t. Born In A Burial Gown and Body Breaker were released by Caffeine Nights Publishing about five years ago, but given his new found fame and hopefully fortune, Constable have reissued these (after he rewrote bits of them). The new ones are apparently a bit tighter – if I was so inclined, I could go over the differences as I’ve an original Born In A Burial Gown too, but I asked on Twitter and Mike advised me to read the new one. So I did.

[Oh, as a quick aside, you might recall me reviewing Assume Nothing, Believe Nobody, Challenge Everything, the book of short stories also featuring Fluke that is not being re-released. Well, good luck if you want a copy as the only one on Amazon now is going for a steal at just under £3500!]

Meanwhile, back to this one, and I can’t help but note the similarities between this book and my last review. Policeman looking to rebuild his life investigating a murdered young woman, and discovering a horrifically brutal second murder. But the similarity ends there, not least because the other book left me wondering whether I would read more from the same author, whereas this one had me wondering where I left my copy of the next book…

This is a beautifully paced book, a drip-feed of reveals in the multitude of plots that dovetail nicely to a logical yet thrilling and surprising conclusion, with a sting in the final chapter that changed all my theories from the penultimate chapter about where things were going. Fluke is a great character, a good man who basically makes himself lonely by not really appreciating who his friends are and how much they care about him.

I addressed the violence in my last read, citing it as a reason why I would think twice before returning to the series, and yet I had no problem here. Possibly as this book is basically a much better book overall, probably as the most disturbing violence in the other book was directed at a female character in a deeply unpleasant sexual way. But Craven presents the crime as a matter of fact, and the characters continue to discuss how horrible it was after the fact – indeed, it is an important plot point – and it didn’t bother me apart from an immediate “Ewwww” reaction. And there’s only the one “Ewwww” moment, that helped too.

The only problem this book did raise was that, as far as I know, there’s only one more Fluke book, with the author, quite sensibly, focussing on his award-winning series. And while I want to read more about Poe and Tilly, I want to read a lot more about Avison Fluke as well…

ADDENDUM: Oh, almost forgot. Don’t read the blurb. While it doesn’t spoil the murderer, it does spoil certain aspects of the plot. A bit.

Many thanks to the author for arranging a review copy.

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