The story begins in 2004. Five people are standing around a freshly dug grave in an empty lot, silently agreeing to keep each others' secrets.
In present day, an archeology prof from the local university has finally received permission to dig up an abandoned lot. It used to be the site of Crestwood, a children's home with a dodgy past that burned to the ground in 2004. No one could have predicted the chain of events that follow.
Meanwhile, DI Kim Stone has a fresh murder on her hands. A head mistress was drowned in her bath tub & some footwork reveals her connection to the dig. They've barely processed the scene before there's another death. And another. Kim's team scramble to keep up as the body count rises. It's soon clear the deceased may be a disparate group but have one thing in common....a tie to Crestwood.
For a crime thriller to be successful, the author has to come up with a great story, a sense of place & a complex plot that keeps the reader guessing. When it's the first of a series they also need to create core characters that you care about & find intriguing. Their personal lives should be touched on enough to make you want to follow them to book #2 but not overshadow the current story line. Ms. Marsons has more than delivered on this delicate balance.
The plot is intricate & riddled with misdirection & red herrings. There are several credible candidates for "bad guy" & only in the last few pages do you finally learn everyone's identity.
The team of detectives is an interesting mix of newbies & vets. Stacey & Kevin are young & keen to impress Stone, their prickly boss. Bryant is old school & the closest thing Kim has to a friend. Their give & take is infused with the kind of ribbing you can only dish out to someone you genuinely trust & care for.
But Kim is the centre around which everything revolves. She's a product of foster care & we get some horrific snapshots of her childhood in flashbacks. It's left her a bit anti-social & guarded. The gifted detective with a troubled past is an old trope but somehow her character never comes across as cliched. She reminded me of Carol O'Connell's "Kathy Mallory" but with slightly better people skills.
Peripheral characters range from the privileged haves to forgotten & discarded have nots. Descriptions of their lives on opposite sides of the city give the reader an atmospheric feel for this area known as the Black Country.
This is a smart, well paced police procedural that grabs you from the start. The fact it's a debut novel makes it all the more impressive & guarantees I'll be on the lookout for book #2.