The Craftsman - Sharon Bolton

4.5 stars

 

When I’m asked to recommend great crime/mystery books, this author is always on the list. If she wrote a book on installing linoleum, I’d read it.  In this outing she branches off in a new direction, adding magic & supernatural elements to the usual mix of crime, mystery & memorable characters.

 

Florence Lovelady is an Assistant Commisssioner at the Met. Thirty years ago she began as a lowly WPC in Sabden, a northern town in the shadow of Pendle Hill. And it was an infamous murder case there that made her career. Now she’s back. The killer she helped put away in 1969 has finally died in prison & Florence wants to see him go in the ground. Bit ironic as that’s what he did to his victims. The difference is they were alive when he buried them.

 

As Florence attends the funeral in present day, we get a bare bones history of just what took place all those years ago. We learn she actually boarded with the killer & his family & she can’t resist returning to the now derelict house one more time before she leaves for good. Unfortunately, what she finds there will cause her to question everything she thought she knew & this time it’s her son who will pay.

 

Not going to blab about the plot too much. As with all Ms. Bolton’s books, it’s best to go in blind for maximum effect. She’s the queen of jaw-droppers & you’ll enjoy it more if you discover things with Florence as she revisits a traumatic past.

 

The book started a bit slow for me but after the prologue, it shifts to 1969 & we get the full story of Florence’s time in Sabden. From there on it’s a compulsive read as we gradually shift back to events in the present. So many elements contribute to the story. We get a taste of what it was like to be a female cop at that time. The isolation, ridicule & sexism Florence faced on a daily basis will spike your blood pressure. There’s a line in there that goes something like “this is how men act when facing something they fear”. In this case, it’s a smart, resourceful woman who might be a better cop & refuses to just shut up & make tea.

 

The setting & its history provide the creepy atmosphere that helps propel the story. Witchcraft, brutal murders & a town full of clannish, suspicious people…I couldn’t help but think this place would fit snugly into something written by Stephen King. It’s obvious not all is as it seems in Sabden. There are hints of things commonly known but never spoken of & deeply guarded secrets. The effect is a constant, low level feeling of menace that keeps you slightly off balance & a tad nervy about turning the next page.

 

Then there are the characters. My favourites included Dwane (not your average sexton) & Avril & Daphne, 2 witches with attitude who I enjoyed much like the nuns in “Dead Woman Walking”. But the star of the show is Florence. What a pleasure to read a female MC who is strong, intelligent & quick on her feet. No histrionics & not given to the dumb decisions that usually have me rolling my eyes in frustration.

 

It’s so much more than just a whodunit. Personal asides & sub plots flesh out the story & bring the characters to life. From her letter to readers at the beginning, it’s clear this is a book the author has wanted to write for a long time & I hope she’s pleased with the end result. If her goal was to keep me up waaaay too late so I could race through the final pages, mission accomplished. Bring on book #2.