No Way Back (DCI Helen Grace #5.5), by M.J. Arlidge

Nine stars

In this poignant short story, Arlidge offers an interesting look at events from decades ago. Jodie Haines has been through much in her young life. Placed in her third group home by the age of sixteen, she is alone and has nowhere to turn. Her sister is serving time for murdering her parents, who were complicit in years of abuse towards their children. As she tries to connect with her fellow housemates, Jodie is shunned and left to suffer, until she is befriended by Gemma, a girl whose rough past is something to which Jodie can relate. After a night of drinking and drugging in the home’s basement, Jodie wakes suddenly to an assault in progress on her person, the owner of the group home facilitating access to the local scumbags. When Gemma makes a shocking revelation to Jodie, they try to get help for the girls in the house. However, actions are taken and Gemma soon disappears, presumably turning to a life on the streets. When Jodie finds evidence that disputes this, she escapes, but is too cowardly to substantiate her report to the authorities. After a second girl brings news to Jodie, there is no standing around idly. Again, this girl goes missing, but Jodie sleuths her way into following and learns what is going on. She holds onto this information, hoping that she will be able to reveal all in time. When she becomes a target again, Jodie chooses to take the law into her own hands. However, with a record for being less than honest and her family history, will anyone believe her outlandish story? Arlidge offers a powerful look into a main character from his extremely successful series, filling in many of the gaps left in the previous five novels.

This short story is not only extremely well-written, but it also gives the reader much insight into the life of Jodie, read: Helen Grace. While Grace’s backstory has not been one of extreme mystery, there are aspects that have been left to linger, particularly how she got her name and became interested in police work. Arlidge develops the early Helen Grace story in these pages, as well as illustrating her resilience in the face of extreme adversity. The attentive reader can also see the strong parallels between Jodie’s ‘imprisonment’ in the group home and the situation in which Helen Grace finds herself at present. This substantiates the timely release of this short story, allowing the reader to mentally prepare for the horrors that Grace is suffering, likely a partial repeat of this third (and final) teenage placement in a group home. There is little to dispute, even from the outset, that Helen Grace has long been a strong woman. However, this short story supports her true character and that helping others has always been a part of her. A quick read, but chock full of details essential to further the understanding for the series reader.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge for this wonderful story that answers so much while sating series fans as they await news of Helen Grace’s demise.