Research tells us that one in a 100 people is a psychopath. If you start to explore specific jobs then apparently 21% of managing directors are psychopaths. I wonder if anybody has ever made calculations about headteachers? I reckon I might of met a few. Anyway, the point is that if you look round society in general many very successful people, not necessarily nice people, but successful people, may well have psychopathic tendencies. You would do well to remember that as you embark on Roz Watkins’ third novel featuring DI Meg Dalton, Cut to the Bone. As the novel begins Meg is still recovering from the death of her beloved Gran and worrying about her mother. who is about to embark on a trip to El Salvador to support women in their fight for sexual freedom. Possibly the last person she is concerned about is her father, who hasn’t been on the scene for a very long time, however, one of the things that this novel is about is the damage that fathers can do to their children and so we might expect when the missing parent turns up on Meg’s doorstep his motives will not turn out to be as pure as he declares them to be.
Set in what sounds like the long hot summer of 2018, the Derbyshire countryside, which forms the vast majority of Meg’s stamping ground, is as parched and tinder dry as the rest of the country and so, when she and her partner, DS Jai Sanghera, receive reports of a missing 18-year-old girl, Violet Armstrong, their search begins to a background of concern about wildfires sweeping across areas of open moorland. Violet has made something of a name for herself on social media platforms as the “bikini – barbecue – babe”. Advertising the benefits of meat products, she has become a target for militant animal welfare groups; one in particular, Animal Vigilantes, has been especially virulent in their condemnation, threatening to slit her throat. However, while the actions of violent extremists offer one line of investigation, it soon comes apparent that Violet, who is adopted, has been asking around in Gritton, one of the local villages, trying to identify her birth father; is it possible, therefore, that someone doesn’t want the truth to come out?
The investigation takes Meg and Jai to the local abattoir, where Violet had a job cleaning. It seems that the last time the girl was seen was on her way to the factory for her nightshift and she has been reported missing when, the following morning, her car was still there but there was no sign of her. The police are faced with the horrific possibility that not only has the girl been murdered, but that her body has then been fed overnight to the pigs awaiting slaughter the following morning.
The factory is owned and run by Anna Finchley, with the assistance of her brother Gary and Daniel Twigg and the pigs they process come from a local farm in the hands of the Nightingale family, whom we meet in the person of Tony, something of a local grandee, and his daughter Kirsty. Tony seems agreeable enough, but it very soon becomes clear that Kirsty is someone that you would not wish to cross. It is perhaps troubling, therefore, that Violet has also made contact with them, claiming that her birth mother, whom she has been told is dead, was in fact Tony’s younger daughter, Rebecca.
And what about Violet’s claim to have seen The Pale Child, a creature of myth who it seems appears whenever the water levels at Ladybower Reservoir sink sufficiently for the old drowned village to become visible? Legend has it that if The Pale Child, said to be an ancestor of the Nightingale family, sees your face then you will die. Has Violet’s fate been foretold? And, if it has then there are others who should also be very worried because the drought has indeed lowered the water level and The Pale Child is undoubtedly stalking the village and the woodland roundabout.
Attacked on social media by both sides of the animal welfare argument and then physically by animal welfare extremists, the last thing that Meg needs is to have to deal with her father who, for the reader at least, is clearly after the money that her Gran left her, money that Meg had hoped to use to finally buy a home of her own. But fathers and their relationships with their families, misguided and/or self-seeking, are at the heart of this story. If Rebecca, whom we come to know as Bex, truly was Violet’s mother then who was her father? And why did Tony Nightingale send his three-year-old daughter to live with her aunt, not seeing her again for 13 years? Did you know that psychopaths can also run in families?
I enjoy Watkins Meg Dalton stories, not the least because I know the area she’s writing about very well indeed. When she talks about driving down Winnats, my immediate thought is “did she have to remove a sheep first?” Not an every day occurrence on Winnat’s Pass, but certainly something I’ve had to do on more than one occasion. Sitting in the middle of the road is, apparently, a favourite ovine past time. As with most serial police procedurals, I do think it’s better if you start at the beginning and jumping in midway will leave you with questions about elements of Meg’s background. However, if you are new to the series that just means you have three books to enjoy rather than one, if not, you won’t be disappointed with this latest instalment.