Perfect Prey by Helen Fields | An absorbing police procedural

Three-quarters of the way through Perfect Prey by Helen Fields, at 10.30 on a summer’s evening, I dragged a lamp out to the conservatory so I could read on until I reached the end. That’s a sure sign of an unputdownable book. There’s lots to like about Perfect Prey. It’s an absorbing story with interesting, complex characters, narrated at a fast pace with lots of action and nice short chapters.

So, what’s Perfect Prey about?

This is is a policy procedural — the second in a series by Helen Fields featuring Detective Inspector Luc Callanach. The story begins with an apparently out-of-the-blue stabbing at an open air concert in Edinburgh.  Soon, it turns out the killing is just the first in a series of attention-grabbing murders. But are they linked? Who’s behind them and why?

Investigating the crimes are DI Callanach, a French/Scottish police officer with hints of an intriguing back story and DI Ava Turner.

At first, there are few clues to follow but when words connected to the crimes begin to appear in graffiti around Edinburgh it becomes clear that the murderer or murderers are announcing the occupation of their intended victims in advance.

When Luc needs help to track the online activities of the murder suspects, he turns not to police experts, but to a private operator, Ben Paulson and an online journalist. This creates tension with Ava’s boyfriend — a Scotland Yard investigator who specialises in investigating in cybercrime. You get the sense there’s more to this tension than just the cases they’re working on. Could it have something to do with Ava? Or it is just because the boyfriend is nasty piece of work?

These are really interesting characters with complicated personal lives and hints of a shared history.  As soon as I finished Perfect Prey, I went out and bought Perfect Remains, the first novel in the series. I look forward to reading it next and hope to read more Helen Fields in future. If you like crime thrillers, keep an eye out for her!

[Disclosure: I read an uncorrected proof of Perfect Prey thanks to publisher Harper Collins.]

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner is the second in a crime fiction series featuring Detective Manon Bradshaw. It is set in Cambridgeshire, where Manon who is 42, single and pregnant, lives with her 12-year old adopted son, Fly Dent. They are relatively new to the area and Fly is attending a new school. They moved because Manon was in search of better work life balance. Living with them are Manon’s sister Ellie and Ellie’s son, Solly.

Manon’s role is to investigate cold crimes. It’s not an exciting job but it suits her while she’s pregnant.  However, when a new murder investigation points towards Manon’s family members, she can’t help but get involved.

The story begins when a wealth manager, Jon-Oliver Ross bleeds to death in the arms of a woman who claims not to know him. The woman says she came across Ross by accident while walking her dog in the woods. Trouble is, Ross died from stab wounds, there’s no dog, and it’s not clear what either of them was doing in the woods in the first place.

When the police open an investigation, Manon discovers that Ross is  Solly’s father. Worse still, Fly is a suspect but there’s little Manon can do to help him because she’s not allowed work on the case. So, she calls on a lawyer friend, Mark, and together they set about proving Fly’s innocence. In the process, they find out a lot more about Ross’s connections and lifestyle. Some of this is dangerous and uncomfortably close to home for Manon.

Complicated plot

Susie Steiner delivers a nicely complicated plot in Persons Unknown but there are a lot of characters and it takes a while to get to know them. This is partly because the narration switches between different points of view. I would have liked more back story on Ellie and her relationship with Jon-Oliver and on Manon. That said, if you read Missing, Presumed you might not need it as much. Despite this criticism, the plot is interesting and holds attention well with nice, short chapters that make for a fast and easy read.

The Wall Street Journal included Susie Steiner’s earlier novel Missing, Presumed in their ten best mysteries of the year. Having read Persons Unknown, I will keep an eye out for future titles in this series.

Disclosure: I read an uncorrected proof copy provided by Harper Collins.