Settings can be familiar, like an old friend, but there’s an extra frisson thrown into the mix when a book is rooted in a place that’s unknown. Doesn’t matter whether the location is exotic or more run of the mill, if the author knows their onions it lives and breathes right off the page.
So, welcome to St Davids, in Pembrokeshire, Wales. With a population of 1600, and a history going back 1600 years, it’s Britain’s smallest city and is the setting for Sarah Ward‘s The Sixth Lie. If you’ve never been there and know little about the place, never fear – the author has you covered, skilfully pulling the reader into lush landscapes and ancient, cobblestoned streets.
It’s where former copper Mallory Dawson has made her home after being invalided out of the Met Police in London. After everything that happened in the series opener, The Birthday Girl, she’s endeavouring to live a quiet life, working in the gift shop at the city’s cathedral and just about managing to make ends meet. As the book opens, Mallory is looking forward to a visit from her teenaged son Toby, but then a plea from DI Harri Evans sends her reluctantly back into the police work she was so keen to escape from.
Harri has a dead body; a woman has been found frozen under the snow at a remote location close to her home. The victim’s name is Heledd Jones, her death is being treated as suspicious. But there’s more. In 2011, her three-year-old son Huw went missing and was eventually found dead at the bottom of the cliffs at St Non’s, a local beauty spot that the child loved.
Now the grieving mother is dead and the spotlight turns again to that New Year’s Eve more than a decade ago. On that night , Hugh’s father and his five closest friends were downstairs when Huw vanished, while Heledd was showing her face at a party over the road. It was she who discovered that Huw was gone, with the friends closing ranks. Now it seems clear that all six lied in their statements to the police. Could one of them be a murderer?
This is a well-written police procedural that doesn’t hesitate to meander from the tried and tested paths of the genre. Yes, we are caught up in the investigation and you’ll find yourself second-guessing what’s happening at ever end and turn but Ward also takes time to shine a light on the characters and their complicated lives away from the case.
Anyone who has read The Birthday Girl, first in the series featuring Mallory Dawson, will know that this is no run of the mill character. The addition this time of her obviously troubled son Toby gives the narrative an extra layer that brings an authenticity and poignance to The Sixth Lie, and suffice to say that there’s more to DI Harri Evans than meets the eye, too.
Amid the clever plotting and well drawn characters is the all-pervading sense of place that Ward does so well. St Davids, and its tight-knit and even tighter-lipped community is given centre stage – and excels in its starring role in this tense and atmospheric novel.
This is a book that pulls in the reader and transports them to another place – a perfect combination as the nights draw in and that reading chair looks more and more attractive. So why not settle back and enjoy a first-class example of police procedural writing?
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CFL Rating: 5 Stars