Pop Goes the Weasel (Helen Grace #2), by M.J. Arlidge 

Eight stars

In this sensational follow-up novel, Arlidge leads readers down the path with another psychological thriller that does not let up until the final sentence. Taking place a year after events in the previous novel, DI Helen Grace is back to work with a somewhat newly constituted team, as well as a new superior. When a man is found brutally murdered in a flop house, his heart cut from his body, Grace and the team commence their investigation. The organ is soon shipped to the family’s doorstep, where a distraught wife is left to discover how sadistic the killer really can be. Soon, another man is found murdered in the same fashion, which pushes the investigation into the world of prostitution and unsuspecting johns. In a form of reverse Jack the Ripper, it appears as though a prostitute is brutally killing men out for a dalliance, though no clear motive or clues emerge. While she juggles this case, Grace is forced to handle a new Detective Superintendent as her superior, one who seeks to hover and garner all the praise. If that were not enough, the press is hounding the authorities for answers, with one honing in on Grace and using her to gain exclusive access. Digging into the deepest secrets that Grace possesses, this journalist seeks to gain the upper hand. As the reader soon learns (if it were not apparent), no one messes with Helen Grace and gets away with it. As the investigation turns up some solid leads, choices are made amongst the team members to gain the advantage, some successful and others utterly disastrous. Chasing the best lead she has, Grace is all but certain to make an arrest before it comes crashing down on her. However, intuitive reasoning might help her catch a killer, unless her independent streak puts her in the crosshairs of a prostitute with nothing to lose. A must-read for those who loved Eeny Meeny and the reader who finds solace (or excitement) in a psychological thriller.

Arlidge uses a strong writing style to create a second novel that has parts that might be even more sadistic than the first. With a strong premise, the story flows extremely well and the short chapters force the reader to forge on, hanging at the end of every break and needing to learn just a little more. As with the previous novel, the characters presented herein come with their own backstories, most of which are developed as the case progresses and some of whom ever pull at the reader’s heartstrings. This allows the reader to feel invested in the process and those who push the plot forward. Building on some of the past secrets revealed about Helen Grace, the reader learns a little more and discovers how she cuts the pressure of her work life with something completely taboo, while also remaining invested in processing the fallout from the previous novel’s revelations. Arlidge does all this while ramping up the gore, the mind games, and the demand for more mental games to catch a killer. How a reader could walk away from this novel and not beg for more DI Helen Grace is beyond me. I am eternally grateful I can binge read them and have the third in the series all ready for quick consumption.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge for crafting this series. I can see past the gore and into the darkest depths of where you want to take the reader, and I want a front row seat!