Mari Hannah’s debut The Murder Wall was, for my money, one of the strongest debuts of 2012 and signalled the arrival of a major new talent on the crime scene. Settled Blood sees DCI Kate Daniels back at work, a little worse for wear after the events of The Murder Wall, but she’s a steely, no nonsense kind of lady and when the job makes demands she’s ready to meet them no matter what her lingering personal complications might be. And this case is one which will require her full commitment.
A young woman’s body is found at the foot of Hadrian’s Wall, dressed in clothing ill-suited to the terrain, and it quickly transpires that she hasn’t set foot on the surrounding countryside; she has been dropped, from a very great height, and died on impact. Daniels sees it as the work of a truly callous mind and the only small crumb of comfort is that she appears to have been heavily sedated when she landed. It is an elaborate way to dispose of someone though and immediately Daniels’ gut tells her this is no ordinary murder.
As they try to establish the girl’s identity a call comes in – Adam Finch, a man who owns half the county and plays golf with Daniels’ boss, has received a chilling letter, warning him that if he goes to the police his daughter will be returned to him in pieces. Finch is a cold, manipulative man, the kind to make enemies by the score, and his daughter Jessica bears a striking resemblance to the young woman who died at Hadrian’s Wall, but what kind of kidnapper murders their captive before they send a ransom demand? It could be the result of incompetence or an unforeseen complication, Daniels thinks. At the morgue she gets her answer. The dead girl is not Jessica Finch. But she is wearing her clothes and the one of a kind Cartier necklace which belonged to her mother.
Daniels and her team are confronted with the possibility that Amy Grainger – a fellow student of Jessica’s at Durham University – was murdered simply to send a graphic message to Adam Finch. But what could he possibly have done to provoke such a act? Spurred on the possibility that Jessica is still alive and being held captive somewhere on the Pennines, Daniels and her team pull out all the stops to save her. With harsh weather drawing in and a huge area to cover, the odds don’t look good.
Mari Hannah’s easy style and ability to inject driving pace into the narrative make this is a book which will have you saying ‘just one more chapter.’ Her background in the police and probation service definitely serves her well again too. The internal politics and personal conflicts which arise during an investigation are deftly handled and give the book a real feeling of authenticity. The character list is quite large but Hannah is a skilled writer and even those who only pop up for a few pages are memorably drawn, so that you’re constantly re-evaluating who the killer must be. Kate Daniels is the heart of this book though and we feel her trepidation and fury every step of the way. She is a strong character who seems bound to enter the canon of crime fiction detectives, a realistic, determined investigator, more original than many of her male counterparts and without the clichéd problems of her female ones, Daniels deserves to go far, all the way to the television screen.
Settled Blood is must for fans of taut, expertly plotted police procedurals.