I met Sarah Ward years ago at her wonderful crime fiction blog Crimepieces, and we have become good friends ever since. Last May I had the pleasure of meeting her in the flesh at CrimeFest, and this fall I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy of her debut novel In Bitter Chill. Best part? It was signed!
In Bitter Chill tells the story of Rachel and Sophie two children from Derbyshire who get kidnapped one morning on their way to school in 1978. Flash forward to the present, and we find Rachel was actually released, while Sophie has never been found. Their cold case is open again when Sophie’s mom is found dead at a local hotel, and DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs start revising the 1970’s investigation.
I finished In Bitter Chill almost a month ago, and right now I am getting the same feeling thinking about this review as I did while I was reading it. Ward’s debut novel is the perfect mix of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series and Kate Morton’s family secrets. The investigating team very much resembles the best aspects of French’s Maddox and Ryan, although I have to admit I prefer Childs and Sadler. However, I thought that if there was a good way to start this review it was comparing Ward to two successful, established female writers, a category I have no doubt, she will find herself at very soon.
The merging of past and present crimes can either make for the perfect narrative or be so confusing that you end up losing interest. In Bitter Chill achieves the perfect mix of past and present so as to remind us that we are never free of the past, but should do not dwell on it. In the case of Rachel, she is still haunted by unanswered questions from her child self: Why was she released? Where is Sophie? Whose fault was it? However, her job as a family historian fits perfectly this narrative and her research, and the chapters where she is given a voice will appeal to fans of Morton’s plots about family secrets.
As for the investigating team, I do hope to hear from DI Sadler and DC Childs soon. While reading I thought it was probably Ward’s intention to create a series with these two opposed, yet complementary main characters. I have to admit I would not have been so drawn to the story had not been for work-addicted, clever, and fashionable DC Connie Childs. I also appreciated the glimpses we are given of their private lives and, especially, one feminist detail about Childs’ past. I had no doubt Ward was a feminist before, but In Bitter Chill is the ultimate proof of her mastery of feminism and crime fiction.
So, I would recommend In Bitter Chill to anyone who is looking for a good crime novel, with interesting and complex characters. However, I would also like to suggest this novel to anyone interested in family history/stories. The descriptions of corpses and the morgue are minimum, and Ward makes the crime about the people rather than the procedure or the forensic science.