Returning to work on a dismal winter day after five months of absence, DI Damen Brook is not a happy man. His leave – partly to recuperate from injuries sustained during the previous novel in his series, partly as punishment for his behaviour on the same case – has left him with few friends and plenty of enemies in the Derby Constabulary, and what is effectively a demotion. His boss doesn’t want Brook to have the chance to embarrass his force further, so has removed him from active casework, despite CID being swamped with the search for a local boy who has gone missing. He is instead shipped downstairs to a dingy basement office where he is set to work reviewing cold cases alongside retired copper Clive Copeland. Bored and miserable, Brook tries to be as professional as possible, but cases dating back to the 1960s that have been reviewed unsuccessfully before are not so much cold as frozen solid.
Despite being dogged by his past failures, Brook hasn’t made DI for nothing. After ploughing through several old files – including the unsolved murder of Copeland’s teenage sister Tilly, which has haunted the man’s life since childhood – he thinks he may just have spotted something. Possibly several somethings if the evidence still exists. But why are key documents missing from the files and why do his superiors keep telling him that things “aren’t relevant”? Brook suspects that there may be more than one multiple murderer who hasn’t been brought to justice, and if he is right, it links in with the boy who has just gone missing. But how can Brook make his colleagues believe him before the boy runs out of time?
The Unquiet Grave is the first Damen Brook novel that I have read (there are three previous ones in the series – Reaper, Disciple and Deity – which started out being self-published before being bought up and released internationally by Headline). For those of you coming to Steven Dunne’s series late, as I have, you needn’t worry about being able to follow the plot. While there are references to things that have happened in the previous books, anything you need to know is given in the story and it really is minimal. The plot itself stands alone and works perfectly well without you knowing the protagonist beforehand. For those of you worried that this is another plot-by-numbers maverick cop versus serial killer story, you should also not worry; this is superior crime fiction, easily the equal of anything by Val McDermid. And there isn’t a criminal profiler in sight.
I found The Unquiet Grave to be a neatly written, fast-paced novel, well balanced between police procedural and thriller. The plotting was complex and intricate, keeping the reader guessing through 400 pages of developments. While I enjoyed reading such a meaty novel, I do have one criticism to make – please Steven, don’t try to write teenage dialogue using teenage slang. Partly because I couldn’t understand half of what was written, partly because it just sounds plain embarrassing (although I’m not sure how much of that is the language itself and how much of it is a middle aged man trying to sound like he understands it). Fortunately the teens in question had minimal on-screen roles and I could, for the rest of the time, enjoy reading otherwise well-characterised grown-up conversations!
If you enjoy crime fiction and have yet to try Steven Dunne, The Unquiet Grave comes recommended from me.
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