Publication: 1st March 2018 from Corsair Books
Sergeant Ruth Lake and DCI Greg Carver are on the hunt for a serial killer who carefully poses his victims and covers every inch of their bodies in intricate, cryptic tattoos. Dubbed the ‘Thorn Killer’, by the media, the killer uses a primitive and excruciatingly painful thorn method to etch his victims. After many months, a breakthrough feels imminent. Then the killer gets personal: the latest victim – a student found only a week earlier – is staged to look like Carver’s wife.
Pushed over the edge, Carver spirals into a self-destructive cycle of booze and risky sex. Now he lies near death, and the unreadable Lake stands over him with a gun. Did she shoot her boss? If not, why is she removing evidence from his apartment, faking the scene?
Ruth, too, is convinced that Carver is holding back; that he remembers more than he admits. Why is he lying? Does he know what she did? How can she hope to unravel the half-truths, hidden meanings, secrets and lies at the centre of this investigation when she herself has lied and lied?
Intrigued, the Thorn Killer watches their every move – all the while plotting the next. Can Carver and Lake pull together to catch him before he strikes again? Or will they be held captive by their own web of lies?
I chose this book to read entirely on the title; it sounded like my kind of book. A police procedural with lots of mutilated dead bodies, at first I thought this would be a gory psychological thriller. And it does have some of that, but overall, the strength of this book lies in the relationship between the protagonists and the multiplicity of twists and turns that have the reader following clues which lead to yet another suspect.
DCI Greg Carver is leading the hunt for a serial killer, known as the Thorn Killer, who has murdered five women in Liverpool and then staged their bodies for the police to find. Each body has been elaborately tattooed using thorns and home-made ink mixed with plant based poisons.
This case has been obsessing Carver and the pressure ramps up when the fifth victim, a drama student named Kara Grogan, is found in the park. Not only does Kara look like Grogan’s estranged wife, Emma, she is wearing a pair of Emma’s earrings, given to her by Carver.
This is too much for Carver to bear and his obsession has led him into serious drinking bouts, sleeplessness and he works at home incessantly trying to delve beneath the surface of these crimes to work out the killer’s motive and the meaning of the tattooed symbols.
The book opens with Carver’s sergeant, Ruth Lake, standing over a near dead Carver in his home. She is holding a pistol which she removes from the scene together with all his case notes, before calling it in. Did she shoot him and if not why has she done the forbidden and disposed of critical evidence from the crime scene?
That Carver survives is down to Lake calling it in, but as he begins a slow recovery, it is clear that the pair, who were clearly close colleagues, are not telling each other the truth. Though recused from the investigation into Carver’s shooting, Lake is determined to uncover the truth behind Carver’s near death and as she investigates, she finds that there are links to the Thorn Killer deaths and she follows the trail that Carver’s notes lead her to.
Unbeknownst to her, however, the killer has Ruth under surveillance and as she conducts her own unauthorised investigation, she is following a path that will put her directly into the path of this devious and cunning psychopathic killer.
The police investigation into Carver’s shooting is hampered by the fact that Carver claims to be unable to remember much of what happened, but Ruth is convinced that he is not telling her everything he can remember and so she also holds back information from him as the two investigations – into Carver’s shooting and the Thorn Killer proceed in parallel.
Splinter In The Blood is a dark and gripping read which had me rapidly turning the pages to get to the truth of the complex and manipulative killer whose deranged motive for murder is deeply disturbing. I’d have liked a little more of a backstory of the killer to better understand what had created this highly unbalanced individual, but overall this was a page turner that kept me guessing all the way through.
I really did enjoy the Lake/Carver relationship and would definitely be open to reading more of this unusual police pairing.
About Ashley Dyer
Ashley Dyer is the pseudonym for prize-winning novelist Margaret Murphy working in consultation with policing and forensics expert, Helen Pepper.
Margaret Murphy is founder of Murder Squad, a past Chair of the Crime Writers Association (CWA), and a former Writing Fellow and Reading Round Lector for the Royal Literary Fund. A CWA Short Story Dagger winner, she has also been shortlisted for the First Blood critics’ award for crime fiction as well as the CWA Dagger in the Library. She has published nine psychological suspense novels under her own name, including Darkness Falls and Weaving Shadows, and a trilogy of forensic thrillers under the pseudonym A.D. Garrett.
Helen Pepper is a Senior Lecturer in Policing and Forensics. She has been an analyst, Forensic Scientist, Scene of Crime Officer, CSI, Crime Scene Manager and Crime Scene Co-ordinator.
As a Crime Scene Investigator, she examined over 10, 000 crime scenes, ranging from thefts and fires to rapes and murders. Later, as a Crime Scene Manager and Co-ordinator for Durham Constabulary, she supervised CSIs in over 50 major incidents. She is a member of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, and has a wealth of experience in the investigation of crime, from simple thefts, to murders and terrorism. An author in her own right, Helen has co-authored, as well as contributed to, professional policing texts. She is a judge for the CWA’s Non-Fiction Dagger award, and is Forensic Consultant to both the Vera and Shetland TV series, as well as Bancroft.