Source: Review copy
Publication: 24 January 2019 from Constable
Welcome to the Puppet Show . . .
A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.
When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.
Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.
As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …
This was one of my books of the year last year when it came out in hardback and now it’s coming out in paperback in just a few days. So I am unapologetically reprising my review, because you are not going to want to miss this book.
It is excellent. I just loved it. The Puppet Show is really good storytelling married with strong and coherent plotting and a couple of protagonists who really engage both your heart and your brain.
MW Craven’s novel is set amidst the Cumbrian Moors. Our protagonist D. I. Washington Poe has been on suspension from his job in the National Crime Agency for several months, accused of making a catastrophic error of judgement. He’s moved back to Cumbria and has been spending his time living frugally and learning dry stone dyking and other useful manual skills.
He’s not expecting to be asked back any time soon, and if he’s honest, he doesn’t really want to go back. Washington Poe is not a man who likes or enjoys the restrictions of command, and he’s utterly intolerant of politicking and grandstanding, so he’s not popular with the brass.
DI Stephanie Flynn, his former D.S. has been promoted to his role, and she turns up unannounced one day to ask him to come back to the Crime Agency to deal with a specific case involving a serial killer the red tops have named ‘Immolation Man’, due to the gruesome way he kills his victims. It seems that Poe has been targeted by this killer, but no-one knows why. Though he doesn’t want to return, he knows that he will have to if he is to get to the bottom of why he should be a target.
Working as D.S. to Flynn, he brings on board the brightest analyst the NCA has, Tilly Bradshaw. I adored Tilly’s character and the way that she and Poe work together. The pairing produces genuine moments of levity in an otherwise dark, often grotesque and twisted story and Tilly’s social conformity (she’s like a young Saga Noren only with added naïvety) coupled with Poe’s utter lack of respect for authority makes for fascinating character development on both sides.
All the characters, including our duo, are really well drawn. The plot is terrific and has both pace and tension with some great twisty moments. I was engrossed all the way through and just loved the explosive ending.
I cannot recommend this too highly. It is an exciting, vivid, technicolour read with great characters, brilliant plotting and lots of action.
Verdict : Seriously, you need to read this. Then you need to put your name down for the next one, but you’ll be behind me in the queue.
I was, and remain, a happy person. I love to laugh and I’m forever on the lookout for new and innovative ways to do this. Other than my father dying when I was fourteen, I had a brilliant childhood. I was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. When I was sixteen I joined the army by accident (may that wily recruiting sergeant have a lifetime of TV programmes with incorrectly synced audio . . .).
I spent the next decade travelling the world sweeping leaves. When every leaf was off every tree in every barrack in Germany, and safely in a bin liner, I dug a tunnel with a reconditioned mess-tin and escaped.
At a loose end, I considered becoming an expert in otters (sadly this is true). To further this aim I did a degree in social work. Thirty-one years after I’d left Cumbria as a babe-in-arms, heralded by the seven trumpets of the apocalypse, I returned to take up a probation officer role in Whitehaven. It was . . . boisterous.
Sixteen years later, and at the rank of assistant chief executive, I made the jump and became a full-time author. As one half of Mr and Mrs Craven, I am contractually obliged to say that getting married is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. With this in mind, a job you can do in your pyjamas comes a pretty decent second . . .
So here I am. Living in a beautiful and historic part of the country. Fells and mountains to pretend you’ve climbed. Forgotten villages to explore. Lakes to swim in and rivers to kayak down (I’ve done neither and I never will.). There are castles and mazes to get lost in, Roman ruins to scramble on (don’t do this, people will shout at you), and, as you’ll see in The Puppet Show, sixty-three Neolithic stone circles to run around naked (again, don’t do this; people really shout at you).
Also we have a lot of sheep. So. Many. F*****g. Sheep . . .
I’m happily married to a beautiful woman (Jo) and, like Poe, I have a mischievous springer spaniel (Bracken – who once ate my cheese muffin when I wasn’t looking). When I’m not out with Bracken, or talking bollocks in the Kings Head, I can be found in the bar at punk gigs and writing festivals up and down the country. I’ve written several books now. One has been optioned for TV and translated into foreign languages. I really can’t complain. And I’m not. Really I’m not. Writing for a living is the best life I could have imagined for myself.
So, I’m happy. And I often think about where the darkness comes from. Put me in front of a blank screen and the laughter stops, immediately replaced by sinister thoughts.
It’s just as well someone pays me to write them down . . .
Mike Craven is a member of both the Crime Writers’ Association, the Society of Authors, and the International Thriller Writers’ Association, and is represented by DHH Literary Agency’s David Headley.