After leaving readers hanging at the end of the previous novel, Arlidge offers some answers in his latest thriller. Set weeks after the events of Little Boy Blue, Helen Grace must acclimate to life behind bars in Holloway Prison, the same institution in which her sister spent years for murder. Grace professes her innocence to anyone who will listen, though the evidence is strong to convict her as a serial killer. During a routine bed-check, Grace’s cell neighbour is found dead, her lips and eyes sewn shut and orifices plugged with an unknown substance. Grace is the presumed culprit, but without any evidence, all anyone can do it keep an eye on high-profile prisoner. Making the best of her time, Grace is drawn into a loose clique, a collection of ladies who seek to help one another out during their daily tasks. They find themselves butting heads with a more sinister group who to marginalise Grace for sending many of the inmates to Hollowy. Left to fend for herself on a daily basis, Grace trying to poke around and solve the murder of her neighbour, eliciting the assistance of a pliable guard. Working with piecemeal information, Grace behinds to put together some potential leads, following them as best she can. Meanwhile, on the outside, DS Charlie Brooks is the only one from Grace’s team still advocating on her behalf. Sure the murderer is still on the loose and has a close connection to Grace, Brooks must work off the books and in complete defiance of her superiors. Using antics that would have pleased her former DCI, Brooks follows a paper trail until she comes face to face with the murderer. While Holloway continues to reel with news of the murder, another inmate is found killed, again stitched and stuffed. Signs of sexual activity between the killer and both victims turns eyes away from Grace and onto one of the guards, though the Governor refuse to allow her staff to be pulled into the middle. Grace may not be a part of Major Crimes at present, but her sleuthing skills soon reveal a likely candidate, someone with motive and opportunity. No one will listen to her, leaving a killer on the loose and Grace that much closer to her own legal demise. Can Brooks and Grace convince their respective superiors to take action, or will the body counts rise while everyone plays ostrich a while longer? Arlidge delivers a wonderful novel to keep fans somewhat sated, though any definite resolution is far from certain.
While this novel did not have the same impact as some of the previous five, there are rational explanations. Helen Grace is away from the rest of her team, working solo and without the resources to which she is accustomed. While there is a serial killer on the loose, with a victim pool that is much larger and contained, the suspect list is significantly smaller in this microcosm. Additionally, it seems only DS Brooks is following up on the leads related to the killer on the outside, keeping the ‘team’ from working as a cohesive unit. All of these factors limit the ability for any successful and explosive novel to develop. However, working with what tools are on hand, Arlidge delivers a wonderfully paced novel that keeps the reader involved from the outset. More a cat-and-mouse game on the outside and a confined whodunit inside Holloway, the two plots work in tandem, coming to a climax around the same time. Arlidge successfully navigates through this with a cast of characters reminiscent of Orange is the New Black: UK Version (if such a show were to exist). There is much to be said of this novel, which taunts the reader, begging them to wait as Helen Grace counts down her final days before trial.
Kudos, Mr. Arlidge for this wonderful novel that kept me hooked until the very end. You are a master at your craft and ought to be praised for it.