Eeny Meeny (Helen Grace #1), by M.J. Arlidge 

Eight stars

In search of a new psychological thriller, MJ Arlidge came highly recommended. He did not disappoint with his ability to grab the reader and leave them gasping for air, even in this debut novel. Picture it, if you will: two people are confined in an area together with no way out, no food or water, and only a gun with a single bullet in its chamber. One must die so the other can live; the choice is theirs. When the first ‘victim/perpetrator’ is released, this story is presented to DI Helen Grace, who has a hard time fathoming this is anything but an elaborate cover-up for a murder. However, the emaciated body of this young woman who’s sobbing out this tale leaves Grace to wonder if there might be some truth to the matter. When a second twosome go missing, Grace and her team rush to the scene, with a similar story coming to light. Soon, more sets of victims disappear and Grace comes to the realisation that she has a connection to at least one of the pair in each case. She cannot find the motive or how the group ties all together, but she knows there is no time to lose. When a leak occurs within the team, Grace pursues a secondary witch hunt to draw them out and remove the rotten apple from the team, only to discover that it, too, is a game that she is ill-equipped to play. As the kidnappings continue and Grace learns of the strong connection, she must find this killer and end the madness before more people are left to make the most dire of choices in a world full of selfish beings. A debut novel that will have the reader recommending it as quickly as possible, while scrambling to find the next in the series.

Arlidge creates a wonderful thriller that has all the elements for success. His narrative abilities keep the reader on the edge of their seat as they delve deeper into the world of torture and depravity. Using short chapters, the reader cannot help but forge on, seeking “just a little more” to quell their curiosity, before realising that they are well past the point of putting the book down. The crimes themselves, pulling on the heartstrings are sick aspects of everyone, offer the reader something to be glad they are safe from experiencing, but it is the contrast between these crimes and the protagonist’s personal side that is truly the greatest lure. DI Helen Grace is anything but run of the mill when it comes to British police material. That Arlidge chose to take things down this path is by no means a mistake, nor is the development of a darker side to DI Helen Grace. The reader is subjected to this dark side from the start and things only become more complex. Arlidge pulls out all the stops at highlighting the struggle and depravity, though something leads me to believe that there is much more to come, with subsequent novels. The reader finds themselves locked away with the victims while also learning through a sub-plot about the killer’s backstory. Arlidge knows how to thrill, yet does so in the most macabre way if only to leave the reader demanding more, hoping for something exciting to end the madness. Unfortunately, sometimes the madness is the light and the tunnel’s darkness is all there is on offer.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge for this powerful opening novel. I cannot wait to see how DI Grace handles subsequent cases and if the trauma that befell her is something from which she can heal.