“In Bitter Chill” by Sarah Ward. Sept. 2015. 320p. Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, $24.99 (9781250069177); e-book (9781466878082).
Forty-something Rachel Jones becomes the center of unwanted attention in present-day rural Derbyshire when new murders linked to her kidnapping 35-years ago hit the news. As an 8-year-old, Rachel was abducted on the walk to school along with a friend named Sophie who was never recovered and given up for dead.
Middle-aged Rachel, now a genealogical researcher, has little recollection of the catastrophic event of her childhood and is unnerved when two contemporary deaths occur. Missing friend Sophie’s mother commits suicide alone in a hotel room and a primary teacher at her former school is found dead under suspicious circumstances. Both events occur within days of each other and the teacher’s death happens close to the public woodlands where Rachel was released dazed and possibly drugged, but otherwise unharmed, after her kidnapping ordeal.
Rachel seeks to delve into her past and finds a common bond with Sophie in the absence of both their fathers during childhood at a time when intact families were the norm. Now she must cultivate her dim recollections to help Detective Inspector Frances Sadler and her team of investigators find a link between deeds of the past and the two modern-day murders.
DI Sadler is assisted in her investigation by Detective Connie Childs and Detective Sergeant Damian Palmer who cultivate a rivalry in solving the case based on their diverse investigative approaches. Detective Childs is a native of Derbyshire, intuitive in her approach, and sensitive to local habits, whereas Detective Sergeant Palmer is analytical, hard-driven, and ambitious.
Subplots include a blossoming romance between Rachel and a local attorney named Richard Weiss and complications that arise from Detective Palmer’s over-orchestrated impending wedding. The cold case is hindered by a dwindling number of first-hand witnesses due to the length of time since the original crime.
First-time novelist Sarah Ward writes a convincing and atmospheric police procedural without the transparencies of many conventional whodunnits by drawing on a cast of believable and sympathetic characters. She has subsequently written additional books in the DC Childs series.
Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Manager and Local History Librarian at May Memorial Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.