When Helen Oddfellow goes to Canterbury for the opening of an Elizabethan play unseen for 400 years, she is expecting an exciting night. But the performance is disrupted by protests, then a gruesome discovery in the cathedral crypt draws her into a desperate hunt for a murderer.
Is the play cursed? The actors think so, but Helen doesn’t believe in curses. As friends go missing and Helen herself is threatened, she pursues the clues through the ornate tombs of the cathedral and the alleyways of the ancient city.
Mysteries from the distant and not-so-distant past are exposed.
Can Helen find the killer – before he kills again?
Having thoroughly enjoyed Anna Sayburn Lane’s previous two Helen Oddfellow mysteries, Unlawful Things and The Peacock Room, I was delighted to receive a copy of the third book in the series, The Crimson Thread, and to find out what literary mystery Helen has found herself embroiled in this time.
The time has finally come for the lost Elizabethan play that Helen and her investigative partner Richard found in Unlawful Things to be performed. The play is not without controversy – depicting Sir Thomas Becket (also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury) as an anti-hero, its discovery has rocked some of the more extreme parts of the religious and literary worlds, and the play’s performance has attracted protests.
Going to the opening night performance in Canterbury – the site of Becket’s murder – Helen is expecting to have to defend the play but she is wholly unprepared to stumble upon a corpse in the cathedral crypt, and even less prepared when the body turns out to be connected to an old ally of Helen and Richard’s. Someone, it seems, is determined to stop the performance of the lost play – and to continue to hide Thomas Becket’s last secret. And it soon becomes apparent that they will stop at nothing in pursuit of their aims.
As with Anna Sayburn Lane’s previous Helen Oddfellow mysteries, The Crimson Thread provides a page-turning literary mystery complete with a satisfying and intriguing intellectual puzzle and a trail of literary breadcrumbs for readers to follow as the mystery is revealed.
There are probably more thriller elements in this book than the previous titles – Helen finds herself up against a truly vicious villain who is capable of both psychological and physical violence – meaning that, with The Crimson Thread being a tad shorter than its predecessors (a slender 211 pages), the pace really rattles along, making for a page-turning and compulsive read. I finished it over the course of an afternoon because once I was absorbed in the mystery, I just didn’t want to stop reading!
Helen continues to mature as a character – she’s more sure of herself in this book, and more aware of the risks that she is taking. Whilst it was lovely to see some returning characters, it was also great to be introduced to some new faces – a determined and organised police detective, and a handsome actor (and possible love interest for Helen) being two of my favourites. I wasn’t quite as taken with the subplot of this book – the young choir boy who occasionally acts as a viewpoint character didn’t quite make up for the absence of newspaper reporter Nick Wilson for me – but I appreciated the change of location and the opportunity for Helen to meet new people, revisit old connections, and tie up loose ends from Unlawful Things.
As in Unlawful Things, the antagonists of the novel are brilliantly realised – one of them really made my skin crawl, being a blend of manipulative, deceitful, and outright violent. As I mentioned above, there are some scenes of both psychological and physical abuse in the novel – Sayburn Lane doesn’t shy away from depicting violence on the page when necessary – but, as in her previous books, this felt in-keeping with the characterisation of her villains.
Unlike its predecessor The Peacock Room, The Crimson Thread is a more direct sequel to Unlawful Things, picking up on a number of strands from the first book in the series and with the return of a number of characters from that novel. Whilst the mystery itself is, as with the others in the series, a standalone, I do feel that you’d get more enjoyment out of The Crimson Thread if you read Unlawful Things first – the central mystery of that novel is fairly key to this one, and a number of events and characters are referenced.
Fans of The Da Vinci Code and The Shakespeare Secret who have not yet discovered Helen Oddfellow should definitely be jumping on this series, as should any thriller fan seeking a change of pace from domestic noir. Lovers of literature will also find much to enjoy here – Anna Sayburn Lane has clearly done her research and her clear yet crafted writing really brings her characters and settings to life. Packed with twists, turns, action, and adventure, The Crimson Thread is another thrilling outing for Helen Oddfellow and I can’t wait to see what she might get up to next!
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the author for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.
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