Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 April 2022 from Michael Joseph
My thanks to Michael Joseph for an advance copy for review
A teenage girl wanders out of the woods.
She’s striking, with flame-red hair and a pale complexion. She’s also covered in blood.
Detective Jonah Sheens quickly discovers that Keely and her sister, Nina, disappeared from a children’s home a week ago. Now, Keely is here – but Nina’s still missing.
Keely knows where her sister is – but before she tells, she wants Jonah’s full attention . . .
Is she killer, witness, or victim?
And will Jonah find out what Keely’s hiding, in time to save Nina?
There’s a reason crime fiction fans love a series and that’s because we become heavily invested in the characters. This Southampton based team is led by DCI Jonah Sheens with DS Ben Lightman, DS Domnall O’Malley, and DC Juliette Hanson. We know by now more about some of them than others, but with every book, our knowledge of them as individuals with home lives grows and we care about what happens to them and their families.
You can absolutely read Little Sister as a stand-alone book, but you’ll be missing out if you don’t then go back and read the rest of the series, because this is a character driven police procedural done exceptionally well.
DCI Jonah Sheens is a good man trying to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. He’s a new father and he knows his partner, Michelle, with whom he has reconciled for the sake of their baby, is struggling with motherhood.
He needs and wants to do the right thing by her, but he’s in a state of turmoil and sleepless nights since his daughter’s arrival are not helping.
Jonah is in the pub when 16 year old Keely Lennox turns up, covered in blood and asking Jonah to find her younger sister, Nina. Both young women went missing from their care home some 5 days ago and all their history suggests that the police have reason to be concerned for Nina’s safety.
What follows is a layered, emotive and very twisty puzzle in which Keely, for reasons that become abundantly clear as the novel progresses, is used to not being believed and so lays out a series of clues for the team to follow in the hope that this will lead them to Nina. They in turn have a real fear that her life may be in jeopardy and so this becomes a race against the clock with Keely seemingly dictating the pace and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the police to search out the facts.
It’s a stunning piece of plotting and Gytha Lodge has paced this book really well. From the very first page I was hooked and she reeled me in like a fish on the end of a very big hook.
Keely is a self-possessed young woman intent on relating her story in a clear, cold narrative style from which she does not deviate. She answers no questions, other than to tell the team that they have to listen to her – really listen – if they want to find Nina.
For buried in her narrative are the clues that will help them find her, but only if they are paying attention.
The story that Keely narrates is not an easy or comfortable one. It is a story of abuse, neglect and betrayal. A story of all the worst things that can happen to two vulnerable girls in care. As we hear Keely tell her story, there are doubts raised about her veracity – Jonah Sheen wants to believe the victim, but so much of what she alleges has already been found to be false.
So what is going on here? Can the team fathom it out in time to find Nina? As they battle against the clock to work out all the clues, this is a case that is getting to some of the team members more than others.
Keeley is such a brilliantly drawn character. She appears cold, calculation and deliberately deceptive. She is the cat playing with the mouse that is the team’s investigation. And she plays them like a fiddle. (too many metaphors?). She’s done her homework on this team, too. And that leaves Jonah really quite unsettled…
Verdict: I absolutely loved this book. It’s clever, twisty, incredibly propulsive and genuinely deserves the ‘I couldn’t put it down’ status. Tightly and rather intricately plotted, it has everything you want in a psychological thriller within a police procedural. It both engages the brain and draws on the heart strings and it kept me transfixed for hours. This is exceptionally good crime writing and deserves to be an award winner. Go buy it – you won’t be sorry.
Gytha Lodge is a Sunday Times bestselling writer and multi-award-winning playwright who lives in Cambridge. After studying creative writing at UEA, she was shortlisted for the Yeovil Literary Prize and the Arts’ Council England fiction awards, and developed a large online following for her young adult and children’s writing, with over seven million reads accrued on platform Wattpad. She Lies in Wait, her debut novel, was a Richard & Judy Book Club Pick. With nail-biting cases that hook you in, and heart that keeps you coming back for more, Lodge’s highly-acclaimed Jonah Sheens series – which also includes Watching from the Dark and Lie Beside Me – has kept readers gripped from beginning to end, and Lodge has been acclaimed as ‘a gifted writer’ by Daily Mail.