Source: Review copy, Netgalley
Publication: e-book. 31 January 2020 from One More Chapter
They were the perfect family. It was the perfect crime.
It’s the most disturbing crime scene DCI Matilda Darke has ever seen…
The morning after a wedding reception at a beautiful suburban home in Sheffield, the bride’s entire family are stabbed to death – in a frenzied attack more violent than anything DCI Matilda Darke could have imagined.
Forensics point to a burglar on the run across the country. But cracks are starting to appear in Matilda’s team, someone is playing games with the evidence – and the killer might be closer to home than they thought…
I’m sorry to say that this is the first D.I. Matilda Darke book that I have read, though I have read many good things about this series. Fortunately it is easy to read as a stand-alone book and I was caught up in the storyline from the opening, extremely grisly, chapter.
Serena Mercer is a neurologist and she and her husband Clive, an anaesthesiologist, have just celebrated the wedding of their daughter Leah with a massive wedding reception in the grounds of their plush house in Sheffield.
Hours later, in the dead of night, their son, Jeremy hears a noise and going to investigate, he and his parents are murdered; brutally hacked to death in a frenzied attack. Jeremy’s 7 year old daughter Rachel is the only survivor. She has been left, tied to a chair, traumatised but otherwise unhurt.
DCI Matilda Darke of the Sheffield Homicide and Major Enquiry Teams (HMET) and her team begin the investigation, but from the outset the sheer horror of the murders clouds the potential motivation. The Mercers were well-respected and frequent donators to charitable causes. Who could have harboured such animosity towards this family?
As Darke takes charge, she is puzzled by the forensics of this case. There are forensic clues which seem to point to a potential perpetrator, but Darke has her doubts. The crime scene, drenched in blood, seems to have given up its clues rather too easily.
Darke sets the team to looking into the background of the family, though the pressure is on from above to solve this crime quickly and cheaply. Resources are tight and Darke’s boss cannot understand why she is ignoring the obvious clues leading to a small time criminal on the run, having escaped from a local police station.
As the team look into the family it becomes clear that this family were harbouring secrets behind their perfect family façade. Even the bride, returning early from her Parisian honeymoon with her new husband, Oliver, comes under scrutiny.
One of the things that made me warm to this book straight away was the way in which Wood draws his characters. The HMET team are great characters, with strong back stories and realistic personalities which make the reader invest in them and in the outcome of their investigations.
A sub-plot is a now, almost cold, case involving the abduction of Carl, a young boy whose mother Sally is at her wits end. Darke, under severe pressure, with far too few staff hands over his case to retired DI Pat Campbell to look into. This case, it becomes clear, will carry over into the next book in the series.
Matilda herself is a great character. She has been through a lot and is questioning her own future but this makes her more inclined to take risks and to neglect those risks in favour of following her own instincts, even hiding things from her loyal team. I really enjoyed learning about this team and their personal lives. Matilda clearly cares about them and wants to make sure that the devastating nature of this case is not causing them emotional harm. Some of them are clearly taking the case to heart and not in a way that is good for their mental health
Matilda herself has suffered a terrible loss and she is finding it hard to cope with the trauma of past events, never mind this awful case.
Wood brings in elements of humour to leaven the bleakness of the case and of course, there is the team’s chocolate drawer which helps to sweeten the bleakest moments in the squad room.
Verdict: The Murder House has a great plot, some real tension and lots of seriously good twists to keep the reader guessing. But what makes this book work are the terrific characters and the very realistic pressures that are placed on them. I’m not entirely sure how Darke manages to stay in her role, but I for one am very good that she does, despite all the danger she is prepared to put herself in. In short, I will gladly read more of this terrifically engaging and suspenseful series.
Michael Wood is a freelance journalist and proofreader living in Sheffield. As a journalist he has covered many crime stories throughout Sheffield, gaining first-hand knowledge of police procedure. He also reviews books for CrimeSquad, a website dedicated to crime fiction.