I don’t read a lot of crime fiction these days and when I do it tends to be the vintage or historical sort, but one author of contemporary crime whose books I always look forward to reading is Sharon Bolton. Her latest novel, Daisy in Chains, is a standalone, which I was pleased about as although I did enjoy reading her Lacey Flint series, her standalones are usually my favourites. This one is a fascinating psychological thriller with the typically dark, twisty and suspenseful plot I have come to expect from this author.
Hamish Wolfe, once a successful surgeon, is serving a life sentence for the murder of three women. Despite being found guilty, he insists that he is innocent – and he thinks he has found the person who can get his sentence overturned. She is Maggie Rose, an eccentric blue-haired lawyer and true-crime author, who has already had several convicted murderers released on technicalities. Maggie agrees to visit Hamish in prison but insists that she needs more information before she can decide whether to take on his case.
DC Pete Weston, the man responsible for Hamish Wolfe’s arrest and imprisonment, is not happy to hear that he has been in contact with Maggie. Pete is adamant that he got the right man and that there is no question of Wolfe’s guilt…but is this what he truly believes or does he just want to stop Maggie from getting involved before she uncovers something he would prefer to keep hidden? As Maggie begins to investigate, she becomes caught in the middle between the detective and the prisoner, and it is unclear which of them, if either, can be trusted.
Being a handsome, intelligent and charismatic man, Hamish has his own fan club who send him letters declaring their love for him and who are determined to prove his innocence. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Hamish: I thought he was innocent – I wanted him to be innocent – but because Bolton never allows us to get right into the minds of any of the novel’s main characters, I couldn’t be certain. The question, of course, is that if Hamish didn’t kill the three women, who did?
It’s never easy to work out exactly what is happening in a Sharon Bolton novel. Her plots are always filled with twists and revelations which leave you questioning everything you have read up to that point – and this one is no exception. I did manage to guess one of the novel’s big twists – not immediately, but well before it was revealed – but another, near the end, came as a complete surprise to me and changed the way I thought about the whole story.
I won’t say any more about the plot or the characters because I think it’s best to know as little as possible before you start to read, but I do want to mention some of the other things I liked about this book, particularly the way in which Bolton uses so many different types of media to tell the story. There are newspaper reports, blog posts, emails, letters, interview transcripts, and even draft chapters from the new book Maggie has started writing about Hamish Wolfe! She also touches on some interesting issues, such as the reasons why a woman might be attracted to a convicted criminal, the difficulties of relationships where one partner is in prison, and the way in which overweight women are perceived by society (all three of Hamish Wolfe’s alleged victims are described as ‘fat’).
Another of the things I always love about Bolton’s books is the mood she creates – the eeriness, the feeling of isolation and the sense of danger and foreboding. There’s usually a lonely, atmospheric setting too: previous novels have been set in the Falkland Islands, the Shetlands, a remote English village and a houseboat on the River Thames. This book does have its moments, with some great scenes set in the caves of Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge, a deserted fairground and a prison on the Isle of Wight, but I didn’t find it quite as atmospheric as some of Bolton’s other novels and for this reason only, although I did enjoy Daisy in Chains, it’s not one of my favourites. I do think all of her books are excellent, though, and if you’ve never tried one before this might be a good place to start!
I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.