BOOK RE­VIEWS

BY Sharon Bolton (Ban­tam) OUT 20 April

Crime Scene - - CONTENTS - By An­dre Paine

Check­ing out Sharon Bolton’s Dead Wo­man Walk­ing, plus the lat­est books from Denise Mina, Chris Brook­myre, Mick Her­ron and many more.

“A slip­pery, devious story in which things are not al­ways what they seem”

Any­one who’s read Ian Mcewan’s En­dur­ing Love will have found it hard to for­get the book’s trau­matic bal­loon­ing dis­as­ter. With Dead Wo­man Walk­ing, Sharon Bolton seems de­ter­mined to top that with a hor­rific open­ing that feels like the mo­ment of im­pend­ing doom in a dis­as­ter movie. Over 30 breath­less pages, you ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery vi­o­lent jolt as 12 pas­sen­gers lose con­trol of their hot air bal­loon over Northum­ber­land Na­tional Park. Their frayed tem­pers are a pre­lude to a crash land­ing in which ev­ery­thing seems to go wrong, from the power lines in the way to the loss of the ra­dio con­nec­tion that might have saved them.

In a malev­o­lent twist, this is a tragedy brought about by one man, Pa­trick Faa, a tril­by­wear­ing psy­chopath from a lo­cal Ro­many fam­ily. When the bal­loon­ing tourists wit­ness him at­tack­ing a wo­man, his re­sponse is swift and pre­cise: he takes aim with a ri­fle and shoots the pi­lot.

Still, it should be an un­even match – a hot air bal­loon might eas­ily es­cape a man on the ground. But Faa has a quad bike and an ex­pert knowl­edge of the sparse ter­rain near the Scot­tish bor­der, while the re­main­ing wit­nesses he wants to neu­tralise are fran­ti­cally try­ing to work out which coloured cord to pull in or­der to es­cape the killer.

It ap­pears to be a ran­dom act of ex­treme vi­o­lence, though Bolton’s stand­alone novel is a slip­pery, devious nar­ra­tive in which things are not al­ways what they seem.

Jes­sica Lane, a key wit­ness on the bal­loon trip, has a cru­cial photo of the attacker – and what’s more, she recog­nises him. When the au­thor­i­ties re­alise there may be an in­jured sur­vivor who’s walked away from the crash scene, both the po­lice and Faa be­gin their own sep­a­rate hunts for Jes­sica.

The risk for a thriller with such an ar­rest­ing open­ing is that what fol­lows will never quite match the early chap­ters. But the as­sured plot­ting and care­ful with­hold­ing of in­for­ma­tion keep you read­ing in or­der to dis­cover why the sur­vivor of a bal­loon crash might be re­luc­tant to call the po­lice. As well as that cen­tral mys­tery, Bolton es­tab­lishes a for­bid­ding at­mos­phere of ru­ral ter­ror and an in­trigu­ing back­story fea­tur­ing a very re­source­ful nun. There’s a fi­nal rush of res­o­lu­tions, but Bolton keeps a grip on her com­pelling nar­ra­tive as the shock­ing na­ture of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is re­vealed. You might guess one of the twists, but not all of them – though in the best crime tra­di­tion, the clues are all there for you in plain sight.

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