Dead Ground (Washington Poe #4), by M.W. Craven

Eight stars

It’s always such a pleasure when sitting down to read a crime thriller by M.W. Craven. His work is so detailed and fast-paced that the reader cannot help but be swept away. Back with another book in his primary series, Craven offers fans another crime thriller set in the north of England. Detective Sergeant Washington Poe wants nothing but the quiet life, but that’s been turned on its head and he faces eviction by the county. In the midst of the trial, Poe is called away to a local brothel, where a man has been bludgeoned with a baseball bat. Poe works with his partner, computer programmer Tilly Bradshaw, and they try to decipher what’s going on and why senior intelligenc officers care so much about the case. The deeper they dig, the less it makes sense, particularly a small trinket left at the murder scene, which can be traced back to a mysterious bank heist years before. Another great story that will keep readers hooked until the final reveal.

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe might love the fast pace work of police investigations, but he’s also a fan of the quiet solitude that a cottage in the country can provide. When Poe is brought to count and faces eviction, he calls on his partner, the socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw to defend him. While they appear to be making headway, Poe and Bradshaw are soon called away on a case in Carlisle.

When Poe and Bradshaw arrive, they discover it’s a brothel and the victim’s been bludgeoned with a baseball bat. While this has certainly been a murder, it does not reach the caliber of what Poe is used to working. It’s only when Poe and Bradshaw are whisked away to meet with British Intelligence that things begin making sense, though only slightly.

Discovering that the victim was former British military and had been hired to transport VIPs to a trade summit, the case takes on a new interest for Poe and Bradshaw. While nothing seems to make sense, a small ceramic rat that was left at the scene of the crime seems highly out of place. After some deep searching, Bradshaw traces it back to an old bank heist with an odd twist.

As Poe and Bradshaw dig even deeper, they learn of an old military group whose ‘mascot’ of sorts was a rat. It’s soon discovered that there’s so much more at play here, with the FBI and MI5 having their own interest in getting the case solved. That said, Poe and Bradshaw will stop at nothing until they reveal it all and bring justice to the man who was killed.

Who’s been targeting old military personnel and for what reason? Can Poe and Bradshaw catch the killer before it’s too late and more bodies pile up? Are there secrets that the Americans and British do not want revealed and has Poe inched his way a little too close to the truth for their liking? All this and much more in revealed in this whirlwind thriller that is sure to keep the reader guessing.

I’ve come to really enjoy the work of M.W. Craven over the past few years, as his writing is both quick and highly detailed. The stories never fail to impress, even if they can get a little complex as the web is woven. All that being said, fans never leave bored or with a case that is simple to solve. Rather, it’s a ride like no other, which will surely keep me coming back for more.

Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw do well as joint protagonists throughout this piece. There is much going on and it keeps the reader on their toes throughout, forcing them to experience the intense banter between the two. While Poe is slightly sarcastic and cold, Bradshaw is too literal for her own good and naive to the intricacies of nuance. Still, they work together masterfully to solve crimes and leave no stone unturned throughout the process.

Craven has added some wonderful supporting characters in the novel, some of whom are friendly faces, while others are new to the action. While many of these complement the protagonists well, it is the banter that they all have that helps enrich the reading experience. Poe is determined to get to the answer and will move anyone in his way, while Bradshaw is highly inquisitive and seeks the synthesise data completely. With pressures from all sides, there is no way to find a happy medium.

The story may not have been my favourite in the collection, but it certainly packed a punch. I was happy to get well into the novel and see what twists arose to steer the story in many directions. I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of the narrative, which gained momentum where needed. The characters worked well to push the story along, travelling through the plot effectively. Craven mixes things up with chapter lengths, leaving the reader unsure what is to come and how things will progress throughout. Things did get a little chaotic with plot lines and tangential pasts that seek to connect to a larger puzzle. Still, I could not stop reading this piece and am pleased I took the time to devour this book in short order.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for series fans in the months to come.

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