A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward is the second installment in the critically acclaimed DC Connie Child series. The first novel In Bitter Chill was a strong procedural with a unique British feel to it, so when saw the novel being sold at Crimefest17 – where I saw also to meet with Sarah again – I immediately bought a copy to have it signed. I knew I was in for a treat, so I save the book until the perfect moment to enjoy it. But I did not really know what I had been waiting for.
DC Connie Childs and her colleagues will face one of the most challenging cases of their careers as a man certified dead two decades ago turns up dead again at an abandoned morgue in the woods. If the appearance of a man long thought dead was not enough, his wife Lena has been serving 14 years in prison for his murder. So, is there a double crime to solve there? And why did Lena plead guilty to the murder of a man who she identified as her husband but was clearly not?
If you are a crime fiction reader this situation will be fascinating but also new. It is not very often that we are presented with such a unique crime scene. But Ward’s trademark with this second novel in her successful Connie Child series is clearly becoming the careful crafting of complex crimes. However, this complexity is not perceived as the reader as hard work, but rather as an enjoyable puzzle that will test Childs, Sadler and Palmer’s skills as detectives. If the present crime were not enough, Ward also forces her police team to face the consequences of a miscarriage of justice while posting life-changing questions about morality and responsibility. They need to discover who died decades ago, but they also need to face the fact that a woman has been in prison for the death of a man who has been alive for years.
In the middle of this investigation, Ward cleverly introduces the personal lives of the three detectives – and their superior Llewellyn – and humanizes the characters by burdening them with the everyday problems that we all know so well from real life. These people are not lone wolves and troubled detectives, but human beings with a domestic and private life that affects them. This does not prevent Ward from using loved clichés from the genre such as the over-tired detective who drinks her body weight in coffee from a large company that may be destroying the local economy. As I said, everyday moral issues that we also suffer in our daily lives.
If In Bitter Chill was an perfect procedural, Ward has reached crime fiction perfection with A Deadly Thaw. This second installment keeps that ‘cozy’ feature that I described in the first novel thanks to the gothic setting, probably inspired by Ward’s own surroundings in the Peak and Lake Districts. But the real strength of the book relies on its procedural perfection of a crime that seems unsolvable at first sight. However, there is no surprise or irrational turn of events and the ending feels organic, only leaving us with a desire to dive in the next book in the series, A Patient Fury as soon as we can.
Sarah Ward is a British crime fiction writer. She is the author of the critically acclaimed DC Connie Childs series, set in the Peak District, where she also lives. Ward is also the mind behind Crimepieces, and she works as a freelancer reviewer.