“All right, you win. Let me explain to you why Ramona Smith had to die.”
When Darren Lace walked to his death on the Crooked Shore in Cumbria exactly twenty years after his father did, the Cold Case unit headed by Hannah Scarlett is called in to reopen the case of Ramona Smith’s disappearance. Darren Lace has been the prime suspect for her murder, and while he was found not guilty, he could not deal with the aftermath, and it seems his son, after all these years could not either.
Meanwhile, someone has returned to the area, someone who may well have killed before. Someone who may well kill again. As events begin to spiral, it becomes clear to Hannah that someone got away with murder years ago and unless they can be stopped, is going to kill again. And again…
Martin Edwards is known for many things – crime fiction historian (not like me, but a proper one), complier of short story collections (amidst other things) for the British Library Crime Classics range, and author of the recent Rachel Savernake books, Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall. Readers with longer memories will also know him as the writer of the Harry Devlin mysteries and this, the Lake District mysteries, the last of which, The Dungeon House, appeared in 2015. Now, six years later, Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind are back, in part due to fans of the series nagging Martin for another one. In part that may be because of the will-they-won’t-they relationship, which has moved on from the end of The Dungeon House in ways that may not please some readers, but I won’t say too much about that.
I’ve said this before, but one of Martin’s strengths is that even when writing a series of books, he never seems content to write the same book twice, and there is a central idea in The Crooked Shore that I am not convinced that I’ve seen before. For a long time reading the book, I wasn’t convinced of what direction the plot was moving in. The text focusses primarily on Hannah and a second character, Kingsley, a troubled man with secrets from the past who may or may not be a reliable character when it comes to seeing his thoughts. The story bounces between the strands very well, with the reader never quite knowing what aspects to focus on until the author decides to let you know. There are some clever reveals as to whether what Kingsley believes are or aren’t true, and the plot keeps moving forward well.
All in all, this is an engrossing read with some very clever ideas running through it. One part I did think was inevitable, and yet it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the whole when my guess proved correct, as while it was a biggish piece of the puzzle, it didn’t help with the whole thing. I did think that one action was a somewhat extreme solution to a problem that could have been much more easily resolved, but I only thought about that long after it happened, and this is hardly the only mystery novel where an easier method is ignored for a more dramatic one.
Overall, this is an excellent novel, one of the very best in the series to date, and easily one of the best police procedural (which is sort of is) that I’ve read in a very long time. I’m guessing that this isn’t the end of the series – there’s an open issue at the end (not with the mystery) that will need resolving – but if Martin is willing to succumb to fan pressure to revive characters then the campaign starts here: BRING BACK HARRY DEVLIN!
The Crooked Shore is out now (well, first thing tomorrow) from Allison & Busby in hardback and ebook. Many thanks to the publishers for the review copy.