The Doll’s House (Helen Grace #3), by M. J. Arlidge

Eight stars

Arlidge returns to offer readers another look into the world of psychological criminals and the ever-evolving life of DI Helen Grace. Set ten months after the harrowing end to the previous novel, everyone is still abuzz that Grace has nabbed two significant serial killers. When the body of a young woman is discovered buried in the sand at a semi-secluded beach, Grace wonders if there is another killer on the loose, but has little context. Authorities are baffled, especially when they discover the victim has been dead for over a year, but has kept up a strong social media presence in the intervening period. Meanwhile, when Ruby Sprackling awakens in a mysterious house, she cannot recall how she made it there. Remembering passing out after a night of partying, she is left to wonder what this windowless prison might be. Soon all becomes clear; she is being held captive by a man who continually refers to her as Summer and wants nothing more than to earn her affections. Like a doll trapped in a confined house, Ruby must learn more about her kidnapper and curry favour with him. However, this man must also learn more about Ruby, as he projects her persona out to the world, covering up her disappearance as a desire to get away from it all. The longer Ruby remains in custody, the more she learns about those who were detained before her. This is also something that DI Grace and the team discover, as they delve a little deeper into the past of their single murder victim. Grace is also juggling a personal search of her own, trying to locate and reconnect with her estranged nephew. Hitting a wall, she uses her persuasive power and desire to ignore a direct order from a superior to learn a little more. Grace comes head to head with her Detective Superintendent, leaving them at odds and Anti-Corruption to enter the picture. With little time to waste, a cat and mouse game ensues with a killer who is keen to cover his footprints and weasel his way into the lives of unsuspecting young women. Can Ruby be saved before it is too late, or will DI Grace have to face her fallible nature? Arlidge spins another great story that will keep the reader hooked throughout.

Arlidge has gambled significantly in this series. Not only has he chosen three very different sorts of crimes and built on them, but also has utilised a significant number of characters to push the plots forward. Fans of the series will realise that in this, the third novel, much of the Southampton squad has changed. The reasons for this are apparent throughout the previous two novels, which saw significant personal involvement of those under Grace’s command. This character merry-go-round forces the reader not only to develop new bonds, but to not feel the shift takes away from the larger narrative. Arlidge uses much of the book developing at least two of these new characters, while also forcing DI Grace and DS Harwood to come to a head, leaving one in utter ruins. This does not, surprisingly, take away from the story or its scintillating nature, as the reader forges on and demands to be entertained. As I have mentioned previously, DI Grace’s personal demons emerge in her secret personal life, which is addressed, though with less detail in this novel, as she makes some choices for her future. The thrills are embedded throughout these lightning-quick chapters and the story reaches a climax at just the right moment, keeping the killer masked until close to the end, another wonderful trait Arlidge uses in his stories. There is much to be said for the twists in the narrative, which leads readers to suspect a few possible characters until the kidnapper is uncovered. Arlidge does not shy away from presenting the horrid ways humans treat one another in the name of control, which remains evident throughout the pages of this novel. Just when you thought you had seen it all, or felt you were on firm footing…

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge for another great novel. I cannot get enough of these and I enjoy the varied nature of your crime-based approach.