Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw has the perfect elevator pitch:
In 2004 Lena Fisher was arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew. A decade later, a year after her release from prison, Andrew is found murdered in a disused mortuary.
You’re intrigued, right? Piqued, even, because you’ve got a few months to wait for its release. Which is precisely how I felt, reading the blurb, having dug A Deadly Thaw out from our shared reading copy pile at Pages & Pages. I wasn’t looking for a new book to read. I was just killing time, waiting to close up shop. But there was no way I could let it back into the wild after that tease. No way. So I dropped what I was reading, and on my way home from work, began reading Sarah Ward’s second novel. And kept reading, non-stop, until the mystery unravelled. When I was done, still a little breathless, one thing was clear: I’ve discovered a new master of the police procedural. And I urgently need to track down her first book.
Set in Bampton, Derbyshire, I am tempted to describe A Deadly Thaw as Midsomer Murders with a harder edge. Which, depending on your opinion of the show, will either be greatly enticing, or a complete turn-off. So, perhaps a more literary reference would be appropriate; A Deadly Thaw reminded me of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, specifically when Siobhan Clarke began playing a vital role in investigations, and had entire chapters dedicated to her inquiries, and her personal life, too.
Ward’s novel has a large cast – both police officers, and civilians – but never risks drowning in them. The novel remains firmly on track, building momentum, thanks to the twists and turns and red-herrings thrust at the reader with expert aplomb. It begins when Andrew’s body is discovered in the disused mortuary, and ends when the case wraps up; no rambling prologues or epilogues. It’s a police procedural, with characterisation intermingled with the investigation. Too often, such novels donate chapters to casework, then halt that momentum for a chapter on a detective’s personal life, or deep reflection. In A Deadly Thaw, Sarah Ward layers her characters with substance, but never at the cost of narrative impetus.
The location – Derbyshire – is refreshing, too – away from the familiar urban landscape of London or Manchester. The novel has a small-town feel without coming across as overly quaint, and Ward showcases the benefits and negatives of policing a close-knit community.
With A Deadly Thaw, Sarah Ward has stepped forward as a writer of commanding gifts, and poised to mark her name on the genre. Jump on the bandwagon early!