Author: Sarah Ward
Finished on: 19 March 2017
Where did I get this book: A book club read
In Bitter Chill is the debut novel from influential crime fiction reviewer Sarah Ward.
Ward lives in Derbyshire not far from me, and has set this book in a fictionalised Derbyshire Peak District town. I was looking forward to reading something set so close to home. Especially something that promised to be deliciously dark and horrible.
The book is primarily set 30 years after a kidnapping where two girls are taken, but only one returned. This event looms large over the whole story, and there is some switching between the two times. Rachel Jones, the girl who made it out of the kidnapping, is now working as a genealogist, when the case is opened once again following the apparent suicide of the other girl’s mother.
In the atmospheric prologue, we get a sense of the dark and complex web of relationships at the heart of this story. A web that we don’t see in its entirety until the end of the story. But, despite some undeniably horrible discoveries along the way, if anything the book errs on the civilised side. We never really get under the skin of the characters, and their shadowy pasts. And it is repetitive. One more description of DS Palmer’s doubts about his impending nuptials and I might have chucked the book out of the window. Despite it being a lovely library copy. Ward is in good company here though; this repetition is reminiscent of the Galbraith mysteries, where we’re constantly being told how materialistic Robin Ellacott’s fiance* is. Is this a trait of mystery novels, where the writer latches onto a single aspect of their minor characters, and repeats it each time they appear?
The genealogy theme is a clever way to introduce several of the issues tackled in the book without them seeming shoehorned. And there are some satisfying twists and turns as we make our way towards the denouement. But I wish Ward had jumped with both feet into the darkness of her subject matter, and explored the impact on her characters with greater depth. I realise this is a matter of personal taste though. I’m sure it says more about me than it does about Ward’s writing that my main criticism of this book is that it wasn’t horrible enough.
This review is dedicated to the lovely ladies of my book club, with thanks for making me so welcome into your ranks.
*Still can’t figure out accents, sorry