Truth or Dare (Helen Grace #10), by M.J. Arlidge

Seven stars

M.J. Arlidge is back with another stunning novel in the DI Helen Grace series, pitting one of Southhampton’s best crime fighters against a series of crimes that appear unrelated and truly baffling. While the COVID 19 pandemic continues to ravage the community, Grace will have to use all her abilities to solve these crimes, even as tensions within the police come to the surface. However, she has a feeling things are not quite as random as they seem… could there be something to this? A gritty addition to the series that keeps readers guessing throughout.

Southampton has been ravaged by many crimes of late, something that keeps DI Helen Grace on her toes and constantly busy. While her team works to put the pieces together, there are some certain cracks that preclude the needed unity to solve these cases with ease. Grace as a romantic history with one of her colleagues that ended badly and which could only exacerbate an already tense situation if the MIT superiors were to discover what happened.

From an arson attack that leaves a man clinging to life, through to a carjacking that has all the elements of a random crime, there appears to be nothing but a bunch of people committing crimes as COVID 19 continues to envelop the world. Is this the new normal, when people are hidden behind masks on a daily basis, lurking in the shadows? Worse yet, crime reporter, Emilia Garanita, is on Grace, hoping to document her latest trip-up and leave her smeared across the printed page. The aforementioned soured romance could be added fuel.

While DI Grace will have to find the common thread, she’s battling demons from all sides. Once she does come across something that could prove to be a solid lead, she’s baffled with the truths that begin to emerge. This may not be a collection of random crimes at all, but rather the work of a brilliant criminal mind with no means of stopping, forcing DI Grace o take things to the next level, or fear exponential repercussions. A great addition to the series, leaving fans to hunger for more.

There’s something about this series that has pulled me in from the outset. While many police procedurals on both sides of the Atlantic have piqued my interest over the last number of years, the work of M.J. Arlidge has always proven to be some that I find the most intriguing. This series usually hits home for me, leaving me eager to pick up the next book in the series, whenever I can.

DI Helen Grace has come a long way throughout this series, though sometimes to her own detriment. Grace has struggled throughout, while always relying one her trusty motorcycle to keep her grounded and the few people she can call friends. However, there are some struggles for her, both within the police force and outside, leaving her less the grounded at a time she must be sharp. Her struggles are well documented here, alongside a passion to solve crimes and bring peace to the community.

Arlidge uses some of his key supporting characters to bring the story to life yet again. Some work primarily to advance the case at hand, while others appear more keen to chop away at the fragile facade of the protagonist. All said, this is a story that pushes the limits of both a baffling crime novel and one where certain characters show new or deeper colours. All of this through the actions of the supporting characters, who serve this piece well.

While I found myself struggling with the novel at times, I am pleased that I stuck with things and found my feet. It may be that there were many random crimes, rather than a central one on which the story focussed. I have always enjoyed this series and enjoy the twists that Arlidge uses to propel the story forward. While I needed a little grounding at times, I found it and was able to enjoy the momentum used to keep the narrative on track. Arlidge uses short chapters to push things along and deviates only when there is a rich bit of storytelling adds to the plot, taking the reader deeper to feel the intensity of the piece. The character development was great and retuning to some of the struggles that some face throughout the series was a wonderful recap to keep the series fan on their toes. I don’t find things lagging or out of place, even as some bemoan that this series is “not like X or DCI Y”. I’ll leave it to them to realise the flaw in their logic there.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, for another winner. I have long been intrigued by your work and cannot wait to see what’s next for DI Helen Grace.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Love Me Not (Helen Grace #7), by M.J. Arlidge

Nine stars

M.J. Arlidge has created another wonderful novel to appeal to his large cross-section of fans, many of whom will surely be buzzing about this seventh instalment. Helen Grace is back in a thriller that brings new meaning to ‘race against time’. While driving to work, DI Helen Grace is almost struck by a vehicle and then comes upon an apparent carjacking victim, with a woman shot twice at close range. It is only then that Grace realises that she may have seen the killer, behind the wheel and speeding away from the scene. Calling in her team, DI Grace begins an investigation to determine what happened and who might be behind this heinous act. Meanwhile, the two trench coat clad youths have a second target in mind when they descend upon a chemist’s. A confrontation therein leads to more bloodshed, though the killers are less concerned about being identified when they leave a victim behind. DI Grace remains committed to finding the killers and one clue helps begin the chase, but these killers are a little too conniving and remain one step ahead. As minutes turn to hours, tainted journalist Emilia Garanita refuses to let this breaking news pass her by, especially as she is on a short leash for having led to the frame-up of DI Grace. Finding a way to approach the story from her own vantage point, Emilia is soon caught in the middle of an evolving situation and could become the next victim. When all eyes turn to a local school, DI Grace knows that there is no time to ponder next steps, though sometimes fast responses yield drastic mistakes. Two killers soon become one and the hunt is on, with enough breadcrumbs to predict where the killer will go next. But what is fuelling this one-day rampage and will DI Grace be able to stop it before anyone else gets killed? Arlidge pulls on past emotional character flaws from previous novels to construct a wonderfully dark story that pulls DI Helen Grace in all directions and well past her breaking point. Wonderful for series fans but likely not a good starting point for those curious about Helen Grace. Best to begin where it all started and work up to this explosive culmination. 

I remember binge-reading the Helen Grace series last summer and being enthralled with the build-up of the characters throughout. This story has an interesting aspect to it that differs significantly from the other novels in the series, worth a discussion in a moment. Arlidge continues to develop the post-incarceration Helen Grace, as she is forced to come to terms with the arrest, prison time, and eventual exoneration for being framed. While that is going on, others around her are forced to readjust, seeing Helen in a new light or trying to revert to how they felt before, though the taint of the prison time makes that hard. The style of this book leaves little time for Helen growth, but the killer’s life is explored in the narrative, such that the reader can draw a strong affinity to the hunter-go-hunted. Speaking of the uniqueness of the book, the largest portion is set in a single day, a la Jack Bauer and the ’24’ television series. The race is always on and the story develops over small increments of time. While some readers have bemoaned this approach, I cannot applaud it enough, as the short chapters beg for this small time passage. The narrative remains crisp as minutes pass and the story develops as the reader turns the page (which becomes happily repetitive). Brilliantly crafted and powerful in its delivery, Arlidge challenges the reader to put the book down. I know I failed there, propelling myself through this wonderful thriller with ease.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge for another wonderful novel. You have differentiated yourself here, turning away from the drawn-out story of a psychopath to a killer seeking to find themselves.

Running Blind (Helen Grace #0.75[?]), by M.J. Arlidge

Eight stars

Before delving into another Helen Grace novel, there stands this short story that packs a punch and offers series fans a look into the early police days of the protagonist. M.J. Arlidge pulls readers back in time once again with this story, which might help show how DCI Helen Grace became such a detail-oriented copper! A man runs through a forested area, dogs chasing after him, and his level of panic increasing. The man is not paying attention when he is struck by a lorry on a fairly busy thoroughfare, causing traffic tie-ups and significant headaches for the local constabulary. A fresh recruit from police training, WPC (Women Police Constable) Helen Grace is rotating through the Traffic Division of the Hampshire Police and attends the scene, taking note of the accident and the state of the victim, who has no identification whatsoever. Discovering her inner sleuth, Grace interacts with the morgue and convinces the pathologist to undertake an autopsy, which reveals some interesting findings. Grace also learns that there is nowhere from which this man could have come, save a small piece of property on the other side of the wooded area. It is a small poultry farm, which soon reveals that the owner has been hiring recent immigrants to complete the arduous tasks. Highly agitated by the arrival of any police presence, Gary Raynor rebuffs many of the questions being asked, but Grace is able to ascertain the identity of the man from one of the other farmhands, Addisu Tesfaye. Working on her off-hours, Grace learns that Addisu was riddled with a form of tuberculosis and that he likely arrived on the shores of England in a less than majestic fashion. Returning to the farm, Grace makes a horrible realisation that will shape how a simple accident investigation may turn into a full-blown major police incident. While her superiors curse Grace and her lack of sticking to the rules, she is lauded for having used her gumption to open up what might be a massive investigation. Definitely a short story/novella, but Arlidge packs a major punch in this story, perfect for series fans or those wanting to learn a little more about Helen Grace before taking the major investment into reading the collection of novels.

I stumbled upon Helen Grace last summer (has it been that long?) and devoured the entire collection up to that point. Reading all the novels that Arlidge had penned and adding some of the short stories that he placed within the series to better shape the Helen Grace character, I soon became addicted and have been waiting for some fresh material. Those who have been on the long journey with Helen Grace will know that she is not one to ‘colour in the lines’, but this story might be the perfect piece of foundation to show where that initiated. Not yet her gritty self, Grace is learning to bend the rules to benefit those who have died, rather than always follow the guidance of her superiors. While there are some periphery characters, the length of the story and the intended focus made Grace the front and centre character to develop. The story flows wonderfully with those short chapters, crisp and leading, for which Arlidge is well known. Even the topic is quite poignant, though is was likely just as popular in 1993, when the story is set. There are wonderful nuances and literary breadcrumbs offered in the piece, giving it the throwback feel that leave the reader feeling they are back in time with the young and still impressionable WPC Helen Grace, who grew into being a maverick who would not rest until the guilty were caught. I had a niggling feeling that I had read this story before. I remembered a number of the opening chapters and scene developments, but I could not find any record of having reviewed them. Now, either the cyber book police found a review I made on a leaked story and erased it, or I became so ensconced in the Helen Grace series that I felt I must have read this piece and crafted the story in one of my dreams. Either way, Helen Grace is back. I am a happy reader and it is time for a full-length novel to keep my heart rate up!

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge for a wonderful piece that taps into those early Helen Grace years. This suits your series fans well, as we are always looking to better understand Helen and some of the ideas you have bouncing around in your head. Keep up the high-calibre writing.