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: