Bampton, Derbyshire, January 1978. Two girls go missing: Rachel Jones returns, Sophie Jenkins is never found. Thirty years later: Sophie Jenkins’s mother commits suicide.
Rachel Jones has tried to put the past behind her and move on with her life. But news of the suicide re-opens old wounds and Rachel realises that the only way she can have a future is to finally discover what really happened all those years ago.
This is a story about loss and family secrets, and how often the very darkest secrets are those that are closest to you.
It’s a sad fact of life – and one I’ve reluctantly accepted – that it’s not possible to read every book you like the look of on its hardback release date. But it’s lovely to get a second chance to make a splash when the paperback comes out. And it’s even better when the author decides that she’d rather like to make a bit of a splash too.
I’m quite delighted to be part of the blog tour for In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward, released in paperback by Faber & Faber on 5th November, because this book is an absolutely joy and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
I loved everything about this book. The setting of Bampton in Derbyshire is vividly drawn, in the grip of cold weather that almost freezes your fingers to the pages as you read. The characterisation is quite superb – the police team at its centre are wonderfully real, and I’m looking forward immensely to getting to know them further. (Because there will be more. won’t there Sarah? Please?). I loved the sharing of thoughts and feelings with the reader – Connie’s feelings about Palmer and Sadler, Sadler’s thoughts about Connie, and Palmer’s terror as his wedding approaches. Rachel too is wonderfully drawn – complex and fascinating, researching family histories while trying to uncover the secrets at the heart of her own.
I’m not really a Scandi-crime reader, but there was much here I recognised in terms of style and content – and other comparisons with the work of Ian Rankin, Elizabeth George and Ann Cleeves have been equally well made. The merging of the 70s and present day timelines is totally seamless: but the author also incredibly skilfully weaves together the police investigation with Rachel’s own, both slowly homing in on the same conclusion. This is incredibly clever writing from a debut novelist, and quite breath-taking to read. The base story line – who abducted the two girls, why did only Rachel return, how (if at all) was the abduction linked to a suicide thirty years later – is complex, clever, and something very, very different. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it’s a really great read – one of those books constantly in your thoughts when the book isn’t in your hands.
Sarah’s background might be in reviewing the best of crime fiction on her blog Crimepieces, and she’s certainly learned her craft from the best of the best. But her voice is unique, her style and content immensely accomplished, and I’m absolutely dying to see what she comes up with next. Sarah Ward – remember the name, because you’ll be seeing so much more of her as she takes up her own rightful place among the “best of the best”.
My thanks to the author and publishers Faber & Faber for my advance paperback copy.
Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces, reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. She lives in Derbyshire where her debut novel, In Bitter Chill, is set.
Follow Sarah on Twitter or through her Facebook author page.