First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ross Greenwood, and Boldwood Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
Returning for the latest (and last) in the DI John Barton series, I turned to Ross Greenwood and this gritty police procedural. Known for writing the dual narratives of cops and killers, Greenwood seeks to pull readers onto the streets of Peterborough and tell a tale. While the delivery is there, some may say it lags a bit. Decent enough to keep my interest as the trilogy comes to an end!
After convalescing from injury during one of his recent cases, DI John Barton is thrust into the chaos that is known as Major Crimes in Peterborough. His first day back sees Barton sent into the DCI chair, replacing his superior who has taken maternity leave. Now, DCI Barton not only has to learn the ropes of the job, but also help hone the next generation of inspectors to see how they might make the leap into a more independent role within the police department.
Elsewhere, Ellen Toole is struggling to stay afloat. Her mother is ill and there is little that can be done. Working her dead-end job, Ellen does the best she can, but cannot help wishing she had it better. After her mother’s death, Ellen slips into a state that sees stress levels mount and self-care dwindle, which fuels poor judgment and a return to some of her old ways. As Ellen’s choices blur, so do some of her inhibitions and she finds herself engaging with people from her school days. This has violent and deadly ramifications, which only trigger Ellen’s mental health issues.
Acting DCI Barton seems to be making headway in the department, hoping to forge a new path all his own. When the team are called out to the scene of a triple murder, things look fairly gruesome. However, these are by no means salt of the earth people, leaving Barton and his team to wonder how much of an effort must be put into the investigation. Still, there are dead bodies and some video to indicate that a burly man might be behind it, so it is worth at least giving it all a try.
After Ellen lashed out at some of her old mates, she tries to justify the act as defence against rape. She cannot believe that she’s acted so harshly, but holds firm that past treatment led to this and kept her from being able to hold her temper. Ellen appears ready to take back her life and right all the wrongs that befell her, not caring who stands in her way. Medication be damned, she refuses to let herself be subservient to anyone!
Acting DCI Barton learns of a DNA hit that might help lead the team towards the killer, though it is familial. This takes the case down some interesting rabbit holes, as they discover the hit belongs to a man who had a psychotic break and turned his rage on others. Could this trait have been passed along to his offspring? Barton hones in on one Ellen Toole, but has little to concretely connect her to the case. He wants to walk a fine line, knowing that if the team strikes too soon, it could mean ruining the case and leaving them with nothing.
As Ellen comes to terms with what she’s done, she is not prepared to go without a fight. Her own mental illness and recent revelations about a past that was anything but calm leaves her ready to scapegoat anyone she can in order to stay two steps ahead of the cops and a certain arrest. What happens next is anyone’s guess. It’s up to the courts to decide, if it ever gets that far!
I have come to enjoy the past novels in Ross Greenwood’s series. This one worked well for me, though I did have a sense that there were some drawbacks that kept me from enjoying it as much as I would have liked. Decent characters and a plot that had potential buoyed the novel, though series fans will have to think on it a but before committing themselves to praising this piece. Not sure this was the series swan song Greenwood may have wanted.
DI John Barton returns for another decent protagonist role. He slides into his new job with ease and is able to keep the reader interested with everything that he has going on. His personal life seems to be reflected a tad more in this piece, though his rise in rank does see him less prominently displayed in this piece. There is some development of his character, but nothing stunning, which is somewhat saddening, as he ends the series back where he started.
Greenwood offers up a decent number of strong secondary characters, including Ellen Toole. Each brings their own flavouring to the story and keeps the reader entertained throughout. I did enjoy learning about their personal struggles and development, some of whom have played key roles in the past two cases, while others are new to the scene. Greenwood paints the Ellen story well here, tossing in those who shaped her as a person and it helps to see how her downfall was a long road to despair.
I must compliment Roos Greenwood for tackling the thorny issue of mental health well throughout this piece. While many convicted criminals do suffer from some form of mental health, it is also something many in the general public have to face daily. While there are dark and menacing sides, Greenwood tries not to tie mental health with criminality. He also tackles the inherited argument of mental illness and whether a parent can pass traits on. Interesting internal discussion for any reader curious enough to pick up the thread.
The story itself had moments of brilliance and others that lagged. There was a strong underlying plot, which permitted the reader to see both the killer and the hunt for her developing simultaneously. This developed in short, alternating chapters that kept the book’s momentum and offered varying sides of the same story arc. However, even with these ingredients, there was a sluggishness to the piece that I could not shake. Greenwood’s use of the ‘know who we hunt for’ has worked well in the past, but seemed to come up short. I found the story dragged at times and I just wanted the Ellen-Barton clash to occur, leaving the courts to offer the final verdict and see if there were twists therein. Perhaps it was just me, but this story seemed much longer than it needed to be and kept the reader tapping their finger between page turns. With the end of the trilogy and Greenwood promising a fresh standalone next, this may be a chance to tap the refresh button and explore new areas of the genre.
Kudos, Mr. Greenwood, for a valiant effort. I’m keen to see if things continue with this series and how you’ll take the piece in new directions, should some of the feedback mirror my own.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons