Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th August 2020 from Hodder & Stoughton
My thanks to publishers Hodder & Stoughton for a review copy
‘What if I told you,’ he said, ‘that I believe my mother’s life to be in danger?’
Robertson Bennet returns to Edinburgh after a 25-year absence in search of his parents and his inheritance. But both have disappeared. A quick, routine police check should be enough – and Detective Inspector Helen Birch has enough on her plate trying to help her brother, Charlie, after an assault in prison. But all her instincts tell her not to let this case go. And so she digs.
George and Phamie Bennet were together for a long time. No one can ever really know the secrets kept between husband and wife. But as Birch slowly begins to unravel the truth, terrible crimes start to rise to the surface.
I’ve been a fan of Claire Askew since her debut novel, All The Hidden Truths. In this, her third novel, D.I. Helen Birch has a potential abuser on her hands and a deal of family troubles to contend with.
It begins when Helen is called down to reception at Fettes Police Station to deal with a voluble American demanding to speak to a ‘someone senior’ about two missing persons. When Helen enquires further, it transpires that Robertson Bennett is trying to locate his parents, George and Phamie MacDonald with whom he has been out of contact for more than 30 years. Bennett had left the family home then, absconding with his parents’ savings and headed to the States, where he built up a successful business.
Now though, things are a little financially tight, and he’s as interested in getting any inheritance he is due as he is in finding his parents. When Helen isn’t keen to do his PI work for him, he ups the ante by suggesting that his father, who has form in the domestic violence department, may have caused injury to his mother.
A visit to the MacDonald’s elderly next door neighbour convinces Birch that there is a case to pursue and she sets about doing so doggedly, even in the face of opposition from her boss, the irascible bean counter, DCI McLeod.
As she sets Amy off to make enquiries, Helen turns her attention to her brother Charlie. Charlie’s serving a prison sentence but an incident means he may well be looking at having to serve more time than originally anticipated. His solicitor, Anjan, is Helen’s partner, and a lovely chap. Something else is weighing on Helen’s mind, too. While her current case involves missing parents, her personal life is quite the opposite. Someone she hasn’t seen or heard from for years has just got in touch and she’s not at all sure what she wants to do about it.
I like Askew’s characters. Helen Birch is a good copper who gets a little caught up in her cases, often acting on instinct and playing out hunches which often have the results she’s looking for. But when she’s wrong, it takes her a while to see it. She and the dependable Kato make an excellent team, with Kato helping to make sure Helen covers all her bases. Helen’s a less good domestic partner though – too often getting so caught up in work that she forgets about Anjan and she’s constantly having to apologise for missing drinks – or leaving him to find dinner for them.
This case takes over all of Helen’s time and energy. Following her instincts she tracks Bennet’s father George’s movements through his trainspotting activities and following one of her hunches, she uncovers a secret more devastating than anything she could have suspected and the case takes on a momentum no-one could have anticipated.
Amy has also made an important discovery and she is soon deeply involved in reading Bennet’s mother’s diaries which are deeply affecting. Helen and Amy are deeply affected by what they know, and the search for Bennet’s parents becomes an urgent one.
The Edinburgh setting is fabulous and Askew’s characterisation and dialogue are excellent.
Askew uses historical newspaper reports as punchy additions to an already dramatic story and these help add to the sense of tension and urgency. As the novel progressed and the search for George Bennet intensifies, I was pretty sure I knew where the book was heading, but that didn’t in any way detract from my enjoyment. I liked that I had the same hunch as Helen, with a little more of an idea about what was going to be discovered!
Verdict: A nicely complex, well-plotted book with a good pace and excellent characters. Claire Askew tells a good story very well. Easily read as a stand-alone, this is an excellent addition to the Helen Birch series.
Claire Askew is a poet, novelist and the Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh. Her debut
novel in progress was the winner of the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, and longlisted for the 2014
Peggy Chapman-Andrews (Bridport) Novel Award. Claire holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the
University of Edinburgh and has won a variety of accolades for her work, including the Jessie Kesson
Fellowship and a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. All The Hidden Truths was longlisted for two
CWA Daggers: Gold (best novel) and John Creasey (best debut).
Her debut poetry collection, This changes things, was published by Bloodaxe in 2016 and shortlisted for
the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and a Saltire First Book Award. In 2016 Claire was selected as a
Scottish Book Trust Reading Champion, and she works as the Scotland tutor for women’s writing
initiatives Write Like A Grrrl! and #GrrrlCon. Cover Your Tracks is her third novel.