REVIEW: DEAD OF WINTER BY LEE WEEKS

DEAD OF WINTER

Author: Lee Weeks 
Simon & Schuster RRP $16.99
Dead Of Winter

Review: Monique Mulligan 

I’m not much of a TV watcher these days, but reading Dead of Winter by Lee Weeks took me back to the days when I watched police procedurals and tried to piece together the clues before the program ended. As far as crime novels go, this one’s entertaining enough and kept me guessing, with plenty of red herrings to throw bookish sleuths off the scent.

Victim, suspect, policeman. When the lines blur, who do you trust? That’s the question rookie DC Ebony Willis is forced to ask when she investigates her first murder case with the Metropolitan Police. Two bodies have surfaced in the garden of a rented house in North London and forensics have found a fingerprint linking this crime scene to a cold case. The trouble is, the force would rather not re-visit this case because it involved a fellow colleague.

More than a decade ago, in an isolated holiday cottage in Sussex, a two women and a child were found brutally slaughtered. The prime suspect was Callum Carmichael, the father of child and estranged husband of one of the women. He was also a police officer from the Met’s own ranks, but without enough evidence to arrest him, the case was hushed up and the trail left to go cold. Now, re-opening this case poses a problem for several key people involved in the initial investigation – will they be hauled over the coals for mishandling things?  What if the media gets a hold of this?

With fresh proof that the killer is still out there, DC Willis is sent to find Carmichael, now a sheep farmer in a remote area. A private and reclusive man, he trusts few people, but he seems to trust Ebony. But is he telling her the whole truth? And what is he doing with the information she is giving him? When Carmichael goes missing from the farm, the race is on to find the killer before more people are hurt.

Weeks put the desolate, wintry countryside to good effect in this novel – the coldness and the isolation created a bleak setting that enhanced the equally bleak plot. Woven into the initial murder-mystery is a complex, chilling story line involving … well, you’ll have to read it to find out, but let’s just say, it is bone-chilling. Thinking about it certainly made me shiver and I wasn’t reading this in the dead of winter! You do need to pay attention carefully so that when everything comes together it makes sense – it can be easy to get lost.

The novel is plot-driven more than character-driven for the most part. However, I liked the way DC Willis’s character was revealed slowly – she has a past that means trusting doesn’t come easily, so it almost felt as if she was slowly opening up to the reader, slowly putting her trust in them. I’d like to see more of her in future novels, to see how her character develops through experience and age. Most of the other characters, save Carmichael, only had superficial development, just what was necessary to keep the story moving. Carmichael was an interesting and complex character suffering post-traumatic stress disorder – an illness that had in the past led to some self-destructive behaviour. Were his actions in this story justified? I will leave you to debate that. As for the ending? Sad. That’s all I’m saying.

Well-paced, with an edgy and cringe-worthy storyline, Dead of Winter is a good crime read. My only real complaint would be that some aspects of the ending seemed a little rushed – particularly in the case of Ebony’s roommate. I think more tension could have been created around that situation before resolving it. This is the first time I’ve read a book by Lee Weeks and I will be keeping an eye out for her other books. I’m not sure if there is an earlier one featuring Carmichael’s case, but if there is, that’s the one I’d start with.

Bookish treat: You’re bound to get the shivers reading this, so a nice hot cuppa would go well here. Maybe some toast to go with it.