In Bitter Chill, by Sarah Ward

In the late 1970s, two girls go missing after accepting a ride to school from an unkown woman. One girl reappears some time later, with no memory of what happened. The other is never seen again. Decades later, on the anniversary of the disappearance, the missing girl’s mother commits suicide.

Now an adult, the surviving girl Rachel Jones, wants to find out how current events may relate to the mysteries of her past.

Local police are drawn into Rachel’s situation when a body is discovered; a murder victim possibly connected to those childhood events and the recent suicide.

Ward is a reviewer of crime fiction and this is her first book. She has created Bampton, a town in the Derbyshire Peaks to be the setting of her work. She has described how she created Bampton to reflect different aspects of real Peak towns and elements of those towns have been built into the fabric of her fictional location. (see * below)

She also introduces her readers to the town’s investigating detectives who will feature in her subsequent books. Connie Childs is a young Detective Constable given the task of revisiting the investigation into the decades’ old missing girl case, to see if anything was overlooked in previous investigations that might shed light on the recent events.

Similar to the first few Ann Cleeves’ books that set me on my crime fiction journey, the point of view of others in the community complements the police narrative. The book switches between the official investigation and the personal impact on the victims and others who find themselves caught up in the events, telling a story where community and family relationships are no less significant than solving the crimes that draw its characters together.



I’ve now taken care of the last of my Christmas shopping. After reading In Bitter Chill, I ordered copies of Ward’s first two books for my mum and have ordered hardcover copies of all her books (three to date) for myself.



The Disciple, by Steven Dunne

This is a very good sequel to Dunne’s first book, The Reaper, effectively rounding out the story started in that debut, but I’m not sure how it would work as a stand alone novel.

Having read The Reaper very recently, I found it easy to follow the continuing and developing story, but I think a lot needs to be known from the previous book to make this one work for the reader.

DI Damen Brook is drawn back into the world of the killer he named “the Reaper” when he becomes involved in two separate murder investigations that have clear links to earlier Reaper cases.
Are they copycat killings? Or were his earlier beliefs about the Reaper’s identity wrong?
And considering both cases have strong links to Brook himself, should the reader consider the possibility of his potential involvement in the murders?

Like the earlier book, The Disciple spans two time periods, linked by the man Brook has suspected of being the serial killer.
In this book the earlier time period also includes a shift of location, where a historical murder investigation in the US potentially becomes part of the increasingly complex “Reaper” story.
As in the first book, this one differentiates the time periods with different type face. In this case the American sections were in bold type. Personally I don’t like the technique, but it might work for others. I think I would have preferred the same typeface throughout.

While community fear would be the logical outcome of the apparent return of a brutal murderer, the response is very different. The killer has only targeted those who’ve been holding the community to ransom through violence, theft or general abusive, threatening behaviour. The killer’s work ironically makes those communities feel safer and the Reaper becomes a kind of folk hero to those who have been saved from the thuggery of not-so-petty criminals.
Where the legal system seems to fail, and where society increasingly turns away from any idea of ultimate Divine retribution, The Reaper carries out the justice desired by the community at large, but considering how widespread the desire for “justice” has become, how can the Reaper meet the growing need?

Black Dog, by Stephen Booth

Stephen Booth is one of the authors I’ve recently discovered who set their fiction in my former home county of Derbyshire.

Black Dog is his first book, introducing locally born Detective Constable Ben Cooper, and DC Diane Fry, newly transferred to rural North Derbyshire from the city of Birmingham.

The search for a missing teenage girl ends when the discovery of her shoe leads police to her partially naked body. The resulting investigation into her murder unravels interlocking webs of secrets within the community and relationships between family, friends and work colleagues become increasingly complicated, adding to the uncertainty around the killing.

One thing that I liked about this book was how easy I found it “see” some of the characters and “hear” their voices – complete with appropriate Derbyshire accent.

The title of the book is significant in a few ways. Firstly through its colloquial definition associated with depression; secondly through the importance of dark canines within he story, and also through folkloric associations, where Black Shuck is a phantom dog associated with an impending death.

Like many of the “crime” books I’ve read recently, this book is about far more than the solving of a murder. The interaction between characters and the development of relationships between them, in particular between Detectives Cooper and Fry, adds to the interest. Each of them has their own secrets and personal “Black Dogs” to deal with.


Steven Dunne: The Reaper, and Writing a Novel

Steven Dunne is another author who locates his work in Derbyshire.

Previously I posted a video of Sarah Ward and Stephen Booth talking about their work. Those two writers set their stories in the rural north of Derbyshire, Dunne uses the city of Derby itself.

During my childhood I lived in the south of the county, about 15 miles from Derby. Trips to the city were rare. My specific memories are vague and they either centre on shopping trips or the area around the Baseball Ground, the former home of the Derby County football team, where I was taken many times on Saturday afternoons.

As for the north of the county, I recall two day trips where we ended up at Matlock Bath. The original destination had been Buxton, but navigation was never my dad’s strong point. Often we set out for one place only to arrive somewhere unexpected.
While we didn’t get to the place we intended, at least I got to see a lot of the countryside.

reaperI’ve just finished Dunne’s first book The Reaper, originally self-published, the book was eventually picked up by a major publisher.

Detective Inspector Damen Brook is an outcast within his department.  When the on duty Detective is called out to investigate a murder, Brook is the on-call officer called upon when a second murder is reported on the same night.

Brook finds  a murder scene that seems far too similar to those he’s witnessed in the past when he worked in London; the work of a serial killer Brook had named “The Reaper”.

Is this case related? If so why has the Reaper reappeared and why has he seemingly followed Brook to a new city?

The novel switches back and forth between Brook’s current investigations and his memories of the earlier cases, looking for the links between present and past, hoping to find proof of The Reaper’s identity.

The opening of the book was quite unpleasant, starting with a young, highly unlikable teenage boy, with a foul mouth and even fouler mind. A boy well on his way to being formed in his father’s image, living with the belief that women are good for only one thing.

I found this beginning had an unpleasant harshness that thankfully didn’t carry thorough the book, but it plays its part in establishing an important character and setting up the circumstances of approaching crimes.

Skimming through reviews on-line, I found a lot of mixed feelings about the book, but none that were overly unfavourable. Most found the book enjoyable but flawed, recognisable as an author’s first; and I agree. My feelings about it were also mixed. I found it mostly compelling, with a few unexpected twists, but I also found that one or two aspects of it made its main character, Brook, hard to empathise with, and I wonder whether he’s someone I really want to spend more time with. However, as I’ve already bought the follow up story, The Disciple, I’ll have to give him an opportunity to prove me wrong and win me over.


As this “Out of Shadows” blog site was originally intended to encourage me to regain my own writing ambitions (to date an unfruitful intention), I’ll add the following link to Steven Dunne’s blog where access is given to a four part series of article on “Writing a novel” The link also gives access to an interesting radio interview with Dunne.


The question Steven gets asked most often is: how do you write a novel and get it published?

There’s no easy answer and all novelists have their own way of working, but in the series of articles [at the link] below, Steven talks about the challenges and pitfalls he faced as he sought to get his first novel, Reaper, published.

Derbyshire Crime Writing

I found this to be a very interesting video, presented by two crime writers whose work is set in Derbyshire, my home county in England.

Unfortunately there are some strange interruptions that cut the flow of the talk, and some apparent jumps that seem to repeat parts of what’s already been said.  It seems like someone made a mess of editing –  a topic will be interrupted and a new topic starts, but then later another jump seems to return the talk back to the previously interrupted topic.

But apart from those infrequent annoyances, there’s a lot of interesting content covering a variety of relevant topics, from writing, reading, history, landscape and folklore .

The Beautiful but Deadly North with Sarah Ward and Stephen Booth

Sarah Ward’s website:

Stephen Booth’s website:

These Wonderful Rumours, by May Smith

15727458In my previous post I mentioned how Trevor Shearston’s Game was set in familiar territory, with many of the book’s events taking place near to my current home.

May Smith’s These Wonderful Rumours is also set on well-known ground, however this time it took me back to my childhood. The book is the war time diary of a teacher from the English Midlands. She lived and taught in the area where I grew up until my family migrated to Australia in 1971. Therefore many of the places are familiar to me, and I know a little about some of the war time events that are the background of the book.

My favourite parts were those that evoked a sense of what it was like to hear air-raid sirens, and German planes flying overhead, and the sound of bombing and anti-aircraft fire coming from nearby cities. My parents were children at the time, living in the same town, and would have heard the same sounds.

My dad has told me stories of seeing searchlights illuminating the skies, seeking out enemy aircraft’ and how he and his sister were made to sleep under the stairs, where it was assumed there would be a degree of safety should the worst happen. May Smith’s account tells of spending nights at her grandparent’s house nearby, where there was a cellar for shelter – and how things became so familiar that the sirens were later ignored, and she’d stay in bed rather than make the trek downstairs, listening to bombing in nearby Derby, about 12 miles away.

The title’s significance is a reference to the stories and gossip that filled in the gaps of official news, some of which had an element of truth, but mostly had no substance.

While the time covered by the diary spans the period of World War Two, the heart of her book is everyday life, which despite some inconveniences caused by the war, continues with as much normality as possible. She tells of frequent shopping trips for clothes; of her evenings of tennis, and of the men who continued vie for her affection despite her attempt to keep them at a distance.

The diary makes it clear she had a difficult time as a teacher, a job she seems to have disliked immensely. One incident in her class affected me quite a lot when I read it. She revealed how she tore up one boy’s cigarette cards* after he (presumably) had been causing trouble. I could feel his dismay. I could imagine myself experiencing something similar and how I’d feel afterwards; and despite her contrition, I didn’t get the impression she understood how devastated a young boy of that age would be, owning very little of value, and having something important to him destroyed by an adult in authority.



* Collectable cards given away inside packets of cigarettes featuring photos related to a variety of popular topics. During my childhood similar card were enclosed in packets of tea. Also, for a time, empty cigarette packets could be exchanged for larger collectable cards. I remember getting packets from my grandad and uncles to exchange for cards featuring football players.