Wednesday, September 2, 2015


THE DUNGEON HOUSE by Martin Edwards (Poisoned Pen Press, September 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The seventh book in the Lake District Mysteries demonstrates Martin Edwards is a very fine writer of contemporary crime. 

I first came across Edwards a few years ago in relation to his CWA short story anthologies, mystery criticism, and encyclopaedic knowledge of the crime genre. Most recently, he's been involved with resurrecting forgotten classics and an outstanding, authoritative tome, THE GOLDEN AGE OF MURDER. But solicitor by day, writer by night Edwards has also penned many modern mysteries set in the north of England (the Harry Devlin series and the Lake District Mysteries).

Not that there isn't some history to this modern-day mystery. DCI Hannah Scarlett returns to the fore, as she and her cold case team re-investigate the three-year-old disappearance of a young woman when another local teenager vanishes. A coincidental, perhaps disturbing, wrinkle for the police is the fact the fathers of both girls are connected by an historic and horrific murder spree.

Twenty years earlier, the owner of 'the Dungeon House' manor went on a drink and jealousy-fuelled rampage, slaughtering his wife and daughter, then killing himself. Both men with missing daughters were at the party the tragic family had held on their property earlier that day (one, a relative, lives there now), as was Hannah's old boss and mentor, Ben Kind. When the ex-girlfriend of one of the fathers returns to the tiny village on Cumbria's wild west coast, all sorts of secrets being boiling dangerously to the surface.

The Dungeon House is an impeccably plotted tale where Edwards vividly brings the picturesque national park region in the north of England to vivid life. He adroitly conjures rural, small-town life, with its dichotomy of surface inter-connectedness and hidden secrets. Everyone feels they know everyone, but knowing this, the locals also keep things hidden from their close neighbours. Let alone outsiders. I've not yet visited the Lake District, but Edward's descriptions brought it's rugged beauty to life for me. The combination of harsh nature, pleasant countryside, and small-town commerce all threads throughout an absorbing mystery tale.

The main characters - from Hannah and her team, to historian Daniel Kind (Ben's son and Hannah's lover) and returning Joanna Footit, who sparks more chaos as she reminds people of things they'd rather forget - are all well-drawn and brought to life. Likewise, Edwards does a good job creating a memorable broader cast to his mystery, from eccentric locals to victims and perpetrators alike. The real-life lawyer has a canny ear for vernacular and perspective, subtly showing how people see the same events differently, without resorting to unreliable narrator tropes.

A very fine mystery that delves into the darkness and doubts that tickle all of our souls.

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