The Puppet Show (2018) by M W Craven – a re-read

Former Detective Inspector Washington Poe is quite happy with his current status quo. He is on leave following a mistake that led to a criminal being put into the hospital, but his rural life in Cumbria, surrounded by peace and quiet, is everything he didn’t realise that he wanted.

Meanwhile, bodies have been discovered inside Cumbria’s stone circles, tortured and burned to death. The Immolation Man is striking without leaving any trace. As he strikes for the third time, he finally makes a mistake – he carves the name of victim number five onto the chest of the latest dead man – Washington Poe. The only thing that could have pulled Poe back into his old life, the Immolation Man has the most dangerous man in the police force on his tail. Why would he make such a mistake – unless, of course, this was all part of a plan…

Reader’s block struck me again recently, and I reached for an old favourite. After reading (and absolutely loving) the latest Poe & Tilly thriller, The Botanist, I thought I’d pop back four years and remind myself how it all started. There’s all sorts of things that I’d forgotten – how quickly the bond forms between Poe and Tilly, for example. Tilly Bradshaw, for those unaware, is a presumably-autistic savant who left university life to join the National Crime Agency and rapidly became their top analyst. Because of her individuality, she is naturally bullied by her colleagues until Poe comes along. There are a couple of scenes where Poe – who despises bullies – stands up for her, but their friendship develops very naturally. You can see Tilly blossoming in this book as Poe drags her towards the outside world. The interplay between the pair of them and DI Stephanie Flynn, their boss, works very well too, as well as their overall boss, van Zyl.

The plot is a wonderfully convoluted and at the same time perfectly straightforward. And you know what? It’s got clues in it. Oh, you won’t spot them, but every revelation in the story is foreshadowed in some way, shape or form. It’s refreshing after reading a number of books recently where the author doesn’t understand that a mystery novel is more than just people wondering who the murderer is for 90% of the book and then a character discovers a photograph that shows who the killer is, who happily explains their motive as they wander off to jail. Here you have a book that can be read just as a thriller while still having a coherent plot that keeps the reader guessing at every twist and turn.

And it has a character talking to a bishop about bowel movements. Something for everyone.

The Washington Poe Series

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