Little Boy Blue (Helen Grace #5), by M. J. Arlidge

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, M.J. Arlidge, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

It has all led up to this, in Arlidge’s sensational DI Helen Grace series. Four well-crafted novels, full of psychological intrigue and laced with character backstories, have built-up to this novel, one that pushes Grace into the spotlight and uses all the loose threads of past plots to create a masterpiece. When DI Grace and her team are called to the scene of a murder at an S&M club, no one is sure what to expect. A man is found, bound so tightly that he suffocated, though no one saw anything out of the ordinary. When he is unmasked, Grace’s personal life spins out of control, as the victim is none other than Jake Elder, her former dominator. Grace scrambles to keep a straight face as she vows not to let this dark secret interfere with the investigation or become common knowledge amongst other team members. There is significant infighting within the team as they jockey for spots and positions of power, leaving Grace to keep them in line as she hides her defensiveness. The secrets do not end there, for series readers know all too well about Emilia Garanita, the roving crime reporter who is regularly up in Grace’s craw but also knows the aforementioned deep secret. During the jockeying for power, Garanita leaks this information to a member of the team, which blows the investigation wide open. While Grace has her own misgivings about her personal choices, a second dominator is found murdered, someone with whom Grace had a brief and very poisoned S&M relationship. Grace panics and spills her secret to her superior, who relishes knowing all this, as he has been courting a secret crush on her and uses this to draw ever closer. Remaining a single step ahead of everyone, Grace is summoned to the home of her current and infrequent dominator, who has recently been killed. Someone is targeting her and she may have discovered the link, though she is in the crosshairs of her own team, who seek not only to out her as a social misfit, but a murderer. Will DI Helen Grace be able to outmaneuver her team long enough to catch the killer, or has this house of cards finally come crashing down around her? Arlidge has concocted a novel of such impact at a poignant point in the series that readers will be left shocked and stunned with the cliffhanger presented to them.

I am almost unable to put my thoughts into words as I seek to review this novel. I sped through this series, not out of obligation but because they read so easily. I was pulled in by the crisp style that Arlidge has to offer in his lightning-fast chapters, as well as the varied style in which DI Helen Grace is presented; a superior police detective with a dark side of her own. While some have come out and called Arlidge the new Jo Nesbø, I feel this is both a disservice to both authors, as well as to Helen Grace and Harry Hole. Grace effectively balances her personal life and the need to release her tension in a way that does not interfere with what she leaves at the office. As is mentioned throughout the series, Grace has no family of her own, save an estranged nephew, and can easily find herself at the mercy of her work life. Arlidge seems to have laid the groundwork for this novel in the previous four, from the character backstories to the dramatic revelations made to certain characters and the means by which the team has changed. While still falling into the psychological serial killer genre, this novel is much more personal, from the opening paragraph to the final sentence and Helen Grace is firmly rooted in the spotlight throughout. Series readers will lap it up, but those seeking to test to waters ought not begin their Helen Grace journey here, for numerous reasons. Stunning developments that I still am trying to organise in my head!

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge for knocking me off my feet with this one. How I can have devoured so much in such a short time speaks volumes to your writing abilities and my interest in your work. I cannot wait for both the upcoming short story and full-length novel, which I hope will help me better understand that ending.