I wish I could remember who put me onto Cumbria based The Puppet Show by M W Craven. I owe them. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how much I had enjoyed this first novel by the writer under this name, especially the chance to meet the analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, with whom I felt a certain kinship. So much did I enjoy it that I went in search of other novels by the same writer and found Born in a Burial Gown, the initial book in an earlier series, also set in Cumbria, featuring DI Avison Fluke as the lead protagonist.
Craven’s leading men share certain characteristics. To start with, they have wonderful names. On balance I think I prefer The Puppet Show’s Washington Poe, but Avison Fluke is good too. They both live isolate lives in the Cumbrian countryside and, when we first meet them, they are both recovering from traumatic incidents which mean that neither of them should be working. They are also instinctive coppers, with little time for the administrative niceties. This may make each of them something of a cliché, but clichés are clichés because they work, because they make for a good story.
And, Born in a Burial Gown is most definitely a good story. It begins with an anonymous note, left on a building site, tipping the police off about a body dump. Without the note the body of the unnamed young woman would have been buried deep in the construction foundations and lost forever. Also, given that she is not only without any means of identification but also appears to have gone to extreme lengths to make sure that she cannot be recognised, she might not even have been reported missing. The investigation, handed over to Fluke and his team of FMIT misfits by his superior officer, DCI Chambers, looks as if it might never get past first base. They don’t know who the victim is, they have no idea as to where she was killed and given the fact that she has changed her appearance they can’t rely on a public appeal to put a name to a face. And then, they get a break, when a fellow officer recognises her as a woman who a few days earlier reported a rape but failed to follow through with the allegations. Has her rapist caught up with her and ensured that she cannot go through with her allegations in the most permanent way possible? Or are the rape and the murder unconnected? Is it rather that whatever actions caused her to feel the need to drastically alter her appearance have finally come home to roost and her death has been some sort of revenge killing? Fluke has to find out before his ever vigilant specialist drags him back into hospital and forces him to submit to the medical treatments necessary to save his life.
I very much enjoyed this book and will certainly be reading Body Breaker, the second in the series. If it didn’t engage me quite as much as The Puppet Show that’s probably because it didn’t have a Tilly Bradshaw equivalent. I thought for a time that Lucy, ‘the bug lady’, might be going to fill the role, but it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a new go to crime writer and haven’t already read Craven’s work you could do a lot worse than spend a couple of hours in the company of either of his disfunctional DIs.