Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 June 2019 from Constable
After The Puppet Show, a new storm is coming . . .
Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath . . . He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.
So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.
Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?
And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.
This time last year I reviewed Mike Craven’s The Puppet Show, I loved it so much that I was determined to get an early look at the sequel. Now it is here and I can confidently assert that Black Summer is everything I look for in a crime novel.
Craven has smashed this one out of the park. Washington Poe and his on the spectrum assistant, Tilly Bradshaw, are back and this novel puts them through their paces in an expertly plotted, beautifully written and thrilling crime novel that has instantly leapt into my top books of the year list.
Poe is still getting used to the revelations of The Puppet Show, but there is to be no respite for him. An old case rises from the ashes, pausing only to put a noose over his neck and pull it tight as he becomes the hunted in a police investigation that threatens everything he holds dear.
Like MasterChef on acid, Black Summer is a five star tale of murder in a three Michelin starred celebrity kitchen. Craven has conceived a well-researched, chilling and wholly enthralling story that grabs the attention and utterly mesmerises.
Years ago, Poe put celebrity chef Jared Keaton in prison for the murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Without a body, it was forensic evidence that convicted Keaton; that and a compelling case crafted by Poe.
Now Elizabeth has reappeared and suddenly it is Poe who is in the spotlight, and not in a good way.
I picked up Black Summer meaning to read a few chapters and was so engrossed I couldn’t stop binge reading. Craven has given us a menu of options fit for a crime gourmand and the individual dishes are rich, complex, well spiced and deeply flavoured.
With Poe and the truly genius Tilly Bradshaw, who puts the real science into this clever forensic concoction, Craven sweetens a rich dark chocolate pot of complex undernotes with the warmth of chilli and a surprising layered finish that nourishes the soul and lingers in the mind. This is a dish you won’t easily forget and there’s no doubt that I’ll be back for more
Craven’s characterisation is strong; each of Poe’s colleagues stands out as a recognisable individual and some, like forensic pathologist Esther Doyle, you know you want to meet again. Jared Keaton is the epitome of a cruel psychopath; clever, charming and utterly ruthless.
But the stars of this book are Poe himself and the wonderful Tilly Bradshaw. Theirs is a relationship that is based on mutual admiration. Poe is a loner; irascible, dark and cynical. Bradshaw is intensely forensic, a brilliant technologist with endless academic qualifications who can’t boil an egg. Slow to trust, she is devoted to Poe.
The wild Cumbrian landscape adds richness and texture to this dark and atmospheric crime brew, leavened with a sprinkling of dry humour and rich wit.
You can read this as a stand-alone, but I would seriously recommend reading The Puppet Show first. This series is so good, you don’t want to miss anything.
Verdict: A banquet of delights that leaves a lasting taste of satisfied pleasure and yet a longing for more. Craven has smashed this one out of the park and if it doesn’t top the crime fiction charts there’s no justice in this world. Outstanding.
M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle, running away to join the army at the tender age of sixteen. He spent the next ten years travelling the world having fun, leaving in 1995 to complete a degree in social work with specialisms in criminology and substance misuse. Thirty-one years after leaving Cumbria, he returned to take up a probation officer position in Whitehaven, eventually working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later he took the plunge, accepted redundancy and became a full-time author. He now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals . . .
M. W. Craven is married and lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne. When he isn’t out with his springer spaniel, or talking nonsense in the pub, he can be found at punk gigs and writing festivals up and down the country.
The Puppet Show, the first in a two-book deal he signed with the Little, Brown imprint, Constable in 2017, was released to critical acclaim in hardback last year. It has been sold in numerous foreign territories and the production company Studio Lambert, creators of the award-winning Three Girls, have optioned it for TV. The sequel, Black Summer, is out this month.