Review – The Doll’s House by M.J. Arlidge

By | February 10, 2015

A young woman wakes up in a cold, dark cellar, with no idea how she got there or who her kidnapper is. So begins her terrible nightmare.

Nearby, the body of another young woman is discovered buried on a remote beach. But the dead girl was never reported missing – her estranged family having received regular texts from her over the years. Someone has been keeping her alive from beyond the grave.

For Detective Inspector Helen Grace it’s chilling evidence that she’s searching for a monster who is not just twisted but also clever and resourceful – a predator who’s killed before.

And as Helen struggles to understand the killer’s motivation, she begins to realize that she’s in a desperate race against time . . .

I’m not really much of a series reader – with a few noteworthy exceptions like Peter James’ Roy Grace novels and Nicci French’s Frieda Klein series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Helen Grace book by M.J. Arlidge, Eeny Meeny, and reviewed it on my blog as “one to look out for”, but less engaged by the second, Pop Goes The Weasel. I’m so glad though that I continued to read with the third book, The Doll’s House, due for publication in paperback and for kindle on 12th February by Penguin. This was one of those books that keeps you up into the early hours, and I really loved it.

The story is very strong – a body found buried on a beach by a young family on a day out, the body of a young girl with dark hair, bright blue eyes and a bluebird tattoo on her shoulder. And it soon becomes clear that the girl was the victim of a serial killer, one who starves his victims to death, all with a similar appearance – and missing girl Ruby Sprackling also fits that profile. The story itself is darkly chilling, all the more so because we view it through Ruby’s eyes as she tries to stay alive. 

But in addition to that, we have the continuing struggles of DI Helen Grace – a complex and fascinating character, wrestling with her history of horrific abuse, fighting against the prejudiced views and downright dislike of her senior officers, sometimes not acting as professionally as she should. I particularly liked her relationship with her pregnant DC Charlie, drawn into the story, her complex dealings with her tormentor Jake, and her interactions with grieving father Daniel. 

The background and motivation of the serial killer is exceptionally well done – made wholly believable, almost sympathetically drawn. And Helen’s new team is quite fascinating – the competitiveness of the female officers who have to fight to be seen, her young black second in command working to gain the approval of his father.

The story is quite perfectly paced, the tension unremitting, and it all builds to an explosive climax:, an over-used expression it might be, but this book really was quite impossible to put down. When I wasn’t reading, it was constantly in my thoughts – I was almost afraid something would happen to Ruby while I wasn’t watching. 

Well done M.J. Arlidge – you’d almost lost me there for a while, but I now can’t wait for the next in the series. And there’s not too long to wait – the fourth in this series, Liar Liar, is due out in September.  

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Penguin for my advance reading e-copy.

M.J. Arlidge has worked in television for the last fifteen years, specialising in high end drama production. In the last five years Arlidge has produced a number of prime-time crime serials for ITV, including Torn, The Little House and most recently Undeniable, broadcast in spring 2014. Currently writing for Silent Witness, Arlidge is also piloting original crime series for both UK and US networks.