When I first received this advance copy I was excited to get into a series by an author that was new to me. As I read the blurb on the back cover I was initially worried about what I was about to read. Maybe it was just the way the blurb was written, but it was sounding very confusing to me right at the outset. There was a plethora of characters that all seemed to have their own plot lines. It was confusing right from the outset as to how, if at all, any of these stories related to each other.
As our story begins, we are introduced to our protagonist, DCI Hannah Scarlett, who works on the Cold Case Squad in England’s Lake District.
She has been tasked with finding out whether Emily Friend, a girl found drowned in mere inches of water in the isolated “Serpent Pool”. She needs to find out whether it was suicide or murder, and to finally give a sense of peace and justice to her dying mother.
As the case is re-opened, the confusion started for me. Like any good police procedural, the investigating officer must come with their own set of problems. DCI Scarlett doesn’t disappoint. She’s faced with adjusting to a new sergeant, who carries a reputation for causing trouble and being difficult to work with; she’s just moved into a new house in the Lake District close to the Serpent Pool; and new cause to doubt her partner – Marc Amos, a second hand book seller.
It wouldn’t be normal if Marc didn’t have his own problems. We know that his business is suffering from dwindling finances and the death of one of his best customers, George Saffell. Just to top it all off, he is finding himself drawn to the attractive and enigmatic Cassie Weston, one of his employees in the shop.
As these circumstances are set up for us, the main action of the story begins. It is easy to tell, right from the outset that our author, Mr. Edwards, is a seasoned writer of significant talent. The writing is at once easy and gripping. At a New Years Eve party, DCI Scarlett meets Louise Kind, the sister of the now famous historian Daniel Kind. He is also a former flame of hers. They haven’t seen each other is a few years. In those years, Daniel has become somewhat of a celebrity with his books, and with his appearance on TV as a historical expert. He has become recognizable to people on the street, which has changed his life quite remarkably. His latest work is a book about the brilliant, but opium addicted 19th century writer Thomas De Quincey. Little did they know – the dark secrets and strange obsessions they would soon encounter, would oddly echo De Quincey’s own drug fueled writings.
As Hannah starts to touch base with the Kind’s, she is drawn into a troubling new case involving the both of them. Louise had been living with the lawyer and book collector, Stuart Wagg, an arrogant and wanna-be socialite. He is mostly hated in the community, but most people take advantage of his extravagant parties, such as the New Years Eve party he has thrown. While he was throwing this big party, he was paying attention to other women far more than he was to her, the actions of a real jerk. She is seeing what he is really like and is deciding that her time with him is over.
As DCI Scarlett begins the new year with her colleagues and new boss, they start to try to uncover more evidence about Emily Friend case. Then she gets a call from her old flame, Daniel. He is asking her to meet as soon as possible. She can only think that it will be about their past and she is unsure of how she feels. Mostly good, she decides. When she meets him, he tells her that his sister has shown up at his house in hysterics. She has had a fight with Stuart Wagg and it ended when she stabbed a pair of scissors at his arm. She flees his house and runs to Daniel, sure that she has hurt Stuart badly. Daniel agrees to go to his house and see that he is okay.
When Daniel arrives at Waggs’ house, he can find Stuart nowhere. He continues to look for him outside the house, on his property, but still to no avail. That is when he decides to involve DCI Scarlett. As the search is now handed over to the police, we are starting to wonder about what case is the story really about. Is it about the murdered book seller at the beginning of the novel, the re-opened cold case of Emily Friend, or the now apparent disappearance of Stuart Wagg?
This confusion is what I found most frustrating about this story. The quality of the writing is excellent, and the delivery and creation of the world of the Lake District is really quite engrossing. From reading about the author, Mr. Edwards, I see that this novel is the fourth in the series about DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind. This would account for the apparent ease of the environment and surrounding characters. He has created a very true world for his stories to live in.
Ultimately, we do find out how each of the cases I mentioned above relate to each other, but I found the journey to finding out was more frustrating than mysterious. This took away much of the suspense of the novel and in the end I just wanted to get to the end to find out how, if at all, any of these things mattered.
Overall – an excellently written novel, but frustrating to read. The plotting of the book was almost purposely over-complicated, but that ran the risk of confusing and losing the reader. I feel that ultimately that is what would happen to most readers encountering this book. Having said that, I would still be interested in reading the other books in this series, as the main characters themselves were very interesting and the depth with which they are written, make them as real as you and me.
>Special thanks to NetGalley & Poisoned Pen Press for providing the advance readers copy of this novel.
The Hurley Edition – May 2010
The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Category: Fiction – Mystery
Publication Date: May 2010