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Book review: In The Dark by Cara Hunter

Book review: In The Dark by Cara Hunter
Book review: In The Dark by Cara Hunter

Oxford has – rather appropriately – developed a pleasing habit of spawning cerebral crime thrillers.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that the home of one of the world’s oldest universities – and the unforgettable Morse – has an exciting new crime writer tucked away in a leafy corner of the city of dreaming spires.

Cara Hunter burst on to the scene last year with Close to Home, a gripping, heart-pounding, classy whodunit about the search for a missing child… and the Richard and Judy Book Club pick that impressed critics and garnered a staggering 1,380 four or five star reviews from delighted Amazon readers.

And now this masterful storyteller is back for a second outing with DI Adam Fawley, principal player in a crime series so clever, complex and original in its labyrinthine plotting and use of narrative device that it is in danger of making other police procedurals seem ploddingly mundane.

When the builders move in to start work on a four-storey Victorian semi in Oxford’s quiet, upmarket Frampton Road, the brickwork in the basement collapses through into the house next door and a shocking discovery awaits them.

A young woman and child are found locked in the neighbour’s basement room.

The woman is emaciated, badly dehydrated and barely alive... and police believe the little boy, who is only about two years old, was born there in the dark and the damp.

Despite police enquiries, no one knows who they are.

The child is too young and confused to interrogate, the woman is so traumatised that she can’t speak and there are no missing persons reports that match their profiles.

Meanwhile, Dr William Harper, the retired, elderly academic who owns the house claims he has never seen them before.

The old man, who is living in a state of filth and chaos, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but DI Adam Fawley is not ruling out anyone and is convinced that Harper’s social worker, Derek Ross, is hiding something from him.

And when the murder team discover that the house is directly behind the home of Hannah Gardiner, a 25-year-old journalist who disappeared two years ago when out with her young son Toby and has never been found, Fawley wants to reopen the case even though he knows it will ‘make a lot of waves.’

The inhabitants of Frampton Road are in shock, wondering how this could this happen right under their noses, but Fawley knows that nothing is impossible and that no one is as innocent as they seem…

A superb mix of psychological thriller and good, old-fashioned detective work, In The Dark is in itself a piece of forensic work as Fawley painstakingly sifts through a mountain of police evidence, a list of suspects as long as a policeman’s arm, and plot so ingenious that it will keep you guessing to the very last page.

And there isn’t a second to lose for the crack police team – and enthralled readers – as the intriguing, tension-packed story takes us on a rollercoaster journey through jaw-dropping twists and turns, and some dark, disturbing revelations.

Each character – whether good, bad or seemingly indifferent – has a role to play and the story rattles along at top speed with the help of a narrative punctuated by news reports, posts on social media, police interviews and scene-of-crime reports which allow intriguing insights into the police investigation.

Fawley, a man with a heartbreaking tragedy in his private life, is the resourceful, experienced and intelligent team leader, his domestic struggles and dry humour grounding what is principally a compulsive and multi-faceted mystery.

Oxford crime just gets better and better…

(Penguin, paperback, £7.99)