November, 1957. Six teenage girls walk in the churning Derbyshire mists, the first chills of winter in the air. Their voices carrying across the fields, they follow the old train tracks into the dark tunnel of the Cutting. Only five reappear on the other side.
October, 2017. Feverishly fixated on a childhood friend, Mina’s dying mother makes a plea: ‘Find Valerie’.
DC Connie Childs – off balance after her last big case – is partnered with a new arrival to Bampton, DC Peter Dahl. Following up on what seems like a routine death by natural causes, DC Childs’ old instincts kick in, pointing her right back to once cold evening in 1957. As Connie starts to broaden her enquiries, the investigation begins to move increasingly close to home.
Waiting for the next book in a favourite series is always a nerve-wracking experience for me – a mixture of heady anticipation and concern that there’s a slim chance this next one just won’t be quite as good as the last. Where Sarah Ward is concerned however, I never have any such worries – her DC Connie Child’s series has gone from strength to strength with each new title and, I’m pleased to report, her latest novel, The Shrouded Path, continues this tradition.
Picking up not long after the last novel (A Patient Fury) finished off, The Shrouded Path sees DC Connie Childs and her colleagues grappling with a series of possibly routine deaths amongst Bampton’s older population. The ‘victims’ – three apparently unconnected women who just happen to be of similar age – all had terminal or chronic illnesses. So is it just random chance that they have all passed away recently, or is something more sinister at work in Bampton’s quiet suburbs?
As always with Sarah’s novels, the tangled web of interconnections and red herrings is expertly weaved together into a pacy, cohesive narrative that will have you tearing through the pages and eagerly trying to fit the jigsaw of clues together. Sarah also does an expert job of handling dual timelines, cleverly linking the events of 1957 with the narrative of present day events in a way that never feels forced or coincidental but only serves to heighten the tension and develop the mystery.
Sarah’s regular characters are, by now, well-established but for long time readers of the series, it’s really nice to see subtle changes to old faces such as the deepening trust and friendship between Connie and her boss, Francis Sadler. New team member DC Peter Dahl is a nice addition as well, balancing out the team nicely following the departure of DS Palmer in A Patient Fury.
That said, one of the joys of Sarah’s books for new readers is that each can be read as a complete standalone – other than the continuing detective characters and the occasional, spoiler-free nod to previous novels, the central story in The Shrouded Path is complete and self-contained. As someone who enjoys a series with continuing characters but likes each book’s plot to be wrapped up, this is a huge bonus – I’m definitely one of those readers that doesn’t like waiting 12 months or more on a cliffhanger ending!
After the darker tone and subject matter of A Patient Fury, The Shrouded Path returns in a softer attitude but successfully does so without losing any of its impact. There’s no visceral descriptions of murder here but the series is far from being a ‘cosy’ and one of the things that I most admire about Sarah’s writing is the way she manages to convey an underlying sense of the sinister and macabre without ever resorting to gory detail. This is done through a fantastic sense of atmosphere and a feel for place, with some wonderful depictions of both the cool beauty and the chilling isolation that can be found in the Derbyshire landscape.
As you can probably already tell, I’ve really enjoyed all of Sarah’s DC Child’s novels (and you can find links to my previous features on her books at the end of this review) however I have to say that The Shrouded Path really is the best one yet. Perfect for fans of Val McDermid and PD James, the series is going from strength to strength with each addition. Fans of Sarah’s previous books will find her latest to have all the compulsion of previous novels with an increased intricacy of plot and confidence in character; whilst newcomers will get to discover a fantastic writer whose powers only seem to increase with each book! Compulsive and readable, with a powerful atmosphere and a hint of the macabre, The Shrouded Path is a fantastic addition to a series that is only increasing in strength.
The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward, published by Faber & Faber, is available now from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher and the author for providing me with a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.
You can find my reviews of Sarah’s previous DC Child’s novels, as well as a Q&A with Sarah, by clicking on the book titles below. And please do check out the rest of the blog tour stops, which continue until 18 September 2018!