The Puppet Show (Washington Poe #1), by M.W. Craven

Nine stars

Seeking a high-impact thriller, I was told to explore M.W. Craven’s new series, involving a rogue police detective with a penchant for finding the truth in all crimes. I am pleased that I did, for this series debut left me astounded and wanting to learn a little more about DS Washington Poe. The burning of a number of bodies would have been enough to alert the National Crime Agency (NCA) to a problem, but when one victim had the name of former Detective Inspector Washington Poe etched into the torso, the higher-ups knew they’d have to seek some assistance. Poe, on suspension for a major gaffe, is hesitant to assist, though his help with this serial killer is essential. Reinstated with a number of limitations, including a demotion to Detective Sergeant, Poe is put on the case and makes his way back up to Cumbria, where he cut his teeth on police work. Not only has the killer—dubbed Immolation Man—set fire to his male victims, but he has also castrated them and left them to burn in stone circles. Utilising a socially inept analyst, Poe and the rest of the team travel to the region and try tracing any connection between the victims. It is slow going, but certain clues point to events decades in the past. Might the Immolation Man have been plotting for all this time, seeking certain men who are pillars of the community? As Poe pushes, he irks many of those in the chain of command, earning him repeated scoldings, though he is more focussed on the case than any social niceties. When a connection does emerge, it opens a new and equally sadistic narrative that could turn the case on its head. How does Washington Poe play into all of this and will the killer strike again, before the authorities can intercept him and stop the burnings? Craven stuns readers with this compact thriller that refuses to slow down until the final page turn. Recommended for those who enjoy a detailed thriller and readers who need more than light and airy when reading a police procedural.

While I had not read anything by M.W. Craven before, I will certainly change that in the coming months. Craven not only presents a wonderful story, but puts the reader in the middle of things, enveloping them in the darker sides of procedurals and making the narrative seem all the more detailed. Washington Poe is by no means a lighthearted character, though his grit and determination is offset by a desire to be sociable. He knows what needs doing and, at times and can extract all the information he needs by currying favour with those around him, though he is not against ignoring direct orders when it suits him. Poe may not have a significant backstory outside of work, but his dedication to the job and compassion for victims and their families is noted throughout the book. Craven does add an interesting explanation about the source of Poe’s name, which the attentive reader will discover. The other members of the National Crime Agency prove able to complement Poe and contrast nicely with all he does. The various personalities work well to keep the reader involved, without feeling that all work in unison in crime fighting. I can only hope at least a few characters return for Craven’s sequel in this series, as I do want to learn more about them and how they function as a ragtag group. The story was stellar, with strong plot lines and well-established characters to keep the reader interested. Layering criminal acts and retribution throughout the novel allows the reader to see a slow release of information that keeps the story from going stale at any point. I lost myself in the detail and found in all-encompassing at times, which left me wanting more. Thankfully, there is another novel in the series to keep me company, as I want nothing more than to dive right in and see what else Washington Poe has in store for the reader.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for this strong debut. I will be rushing to get my hands on the second book and eagerly awaiting the third, due in 2020.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: