Source: Review copy
Publication: Available now in ebook and in paperback from Trapeze on 6th February 2020
The body count is rising…and the clock is ticking.
When a young woman is attacked and left fighting to survive in hospital, the police are pulled into a race against time to save her life. But just 24 hours later, she dies and a deadly tattoo is discovered on her body.
And when another young woman disappears, Detective Francis Sullivan and his team fear a serial killer walks the streets of Brighton.
His team identify a suspect, Alex Mullins, son of Francis’s lover, Marni. Can Francis forget their shared past and save the next victim before it is too late?
Her Last Breath is the Brighton set sequel to The Tattoo Thief featuring D.I. Francis Sullivan and tattoo artist Marni Mullins. Though it’s not completely necessary to read The Tattoo Thief first, I’d recommend doing so as the reader will get more from the book as a result.
I left The Tattoo Thief thinking that Francis and Marni made something of an odd couple and so it wasn’t entirely surprising when I discovered that as Her Last Breath begins, the two are not together. That’s one of the things I like about Alison Belsham’s books; her characters are not predictable or cliched.
Marni has gone back to her ex, Thierry, and is preparing to give evidence at the trial of the nasty perpetrator of the Tattoo Thief killings; not something she is looking forward to. Then Tash Bradley, the girlfriend of Marni’s son, Alex is found murdered – and Alex is squarely in the frame. When the police discover that tattoos have a role to play in this and then in subsequent murders, things do not look good for Marni or her family.
Francis, meanwhile, is dealing with family issues, or rather failing to deal with them. His work ethic is enabling him to keep an emotional distance from everyone he cares about, including his sister and yet he is still finding himself at odds with his boss and one or two of his colleagues.
Francis is unconvinced that Alex is the serial killer the police are seeking; lack of evidence has something to do with that, but his boss is concerned that they make a fast arrest and Francis is out on a limb as he refuses to arrest Alex without corroborating evidence. Additionally, he needs Marni to turn up for her court testimony and he’s pretty sure she’s not going to do that if he locks Alex up.
All of this is impacting negatively on Marni who has worries of her own. Not only is she concerned about Alex, but she suspects Thierry is cheating on her again and there’s another serious thorn in her flesh that she can’t deal with easily.
Told from multiple points of view this is a gripping read that holds the attention. Alison Belsham quickly draws the reader into the pages of the book and she wastes no time in getting to the action. Well plotted and with a deftly concealed perpetrator, Her Last Breath offers an opportunity to get to know the central protagonists better; though Francis wrestles with the personal and does his best to remain a closed book. As a reader, you really do want to help him to unbutton a little, but he is slow to trust and is his own worst enemy.
It is Belsham’s distinctive voices and excellent characterisation that really make her books work for me. These are fully fleshed, well-drawn people that I can visualise and whose actions always run true to their character. So, while I’m not sure I like Marni Mullins, I know what she’s been through and where her heart lies and why Francis is drawn to her.
The murders themselves are suitably fiendish and grisly and there’s more than one surprise in store as this fast-paced and thrilling police procedural progresses.
Verdict: Excellent storytelling, with a well-defined sense of place and a beautifully creepy atmosphere. Some very twisted moments create a real sense of tension and some well laid surprises really hit their mark.
Alison Belsham initially started writing with the ambition of becoming a screenwriter—and in 2000 was commended for her visual story telling in the Orange Prize for screenwriting. In 2001 she was shortlisted in a BBC Drama Writer competition. Life and children intervened but, switching to fiction, in 2009 her novel Domino was selected for the prestigious Adventures in Fiction mentoring scheme. In 2016 she pitched her first crime novel, The Tattoo Thief, at the Pitch Perfect event at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival and was judged the winner. The Tattoo Thief is out now, Her Last Breath is the sequel and she’s currently working on the third book in the Francis Sullivan trilogy, Death’s Needle. Alison lives in Edinburgh, and when she’s not writing she spends her time visiting tattoo conventions.