In the world of fiction, Oxford is not just a place of academia and dreaming spires… even in its leafiest corners, there are dark deeds and murders most foul.
And now the city that spawned the unforgettable Morse has become home to a new writer of cerebral crime thrillers, delivering stories steeped in gritty reality, spine-tingling tension and clever, complex detective work which is rendered so real that you feel like you are tagging along with the murder squad.
They come from the pen of masterful storyteller Cara Hunter, an exciting Oxford author whose DI Adam Fawley crime series has won widespread acclaim for its artful plotting and a highly original narrative device which features news reports, social media posts, police interviews and scene-of-crime reports, allowing rapt readers intriguing insights into a police investigation.
Fast-paced and gripping, these are superbly created mysteries starring a cast of compelling characters from all walks of life, and real-life, contemporary issues that are often hard-hitting and deeply emotive.
In No Way Out – which sees Hunter at her chilling, thrilling best – it’s the ‘fag-end of Christmas’ and we join DI Fawley and his team as they are called out to one of the most disturbing cases Fawley has ever had to work on.
Two children have just been pulled from the fire-ravaged wreckage of a large multi-million pound Edwardian home in a well-heeled district of Oxford. The youngest, three-year-old Zachary is dead, and his ten-year-old brother Matty is critical and fighting for his life.
The fire chief reckons that the blaze was almost certainly started deliberately and there is no sign of the boys’ parents, Michael and Samantha Esmond. The police must discover why they were left in the house alone, and the whereabouts of their missing parents.
They quickly establish that Michael Esmond is an academic and was booked in to speak at a conference in London so why is he not answering his phone, and where is their mother?
As new clues are discovered, and evidence of tensions in the Esmond family is slowly revealed, Fawley knows for sure this fire was murder, and the killer is still out there...
Hunter plays a clever game in this psychologically astute thriller, drip-feeding information about the troubled Esmond family through flashbacks into the events that have led up to the blaze in a heart-wrenching story that stretches far beyond the confines of the academic world.
Fawley and his team are, as always, the beating heart of the investigation with their personal and professional lives perfectly balanced against the unfolding of a mystery which abounds with red herrings, devilish twists and turns, and a long list of suspects whose guilt or innocence seems to fluctuate from page to page.
For Fawley, the resourceful, experienced and intelligent team leader still reeling from the death of his own son, this is a disturbing and distressing case that tests his emotional detachment, while for newly promoted Acting DS ‘Gis’Gislingham, the investigation is a trial by fire which will see him either founder or flourish.
Rich in detail, bristling with tension and peppered with Hunter’s brand of leavening dark humour, this is a series that is reaching new heights of excellence.
(Penguin, paperback, £7.99)