In A Deadly Thaw, talented author Sarah Ward returns to the Derbyshire village of Bampton and the lives of DI Francis Sadler, Dc Connie Shields, and handsome DS Damian Palmer. Building on a mystery
that unfolds over several days, Ward melds the themes of sexual abuse into the inexplicable death of Andrew Fisher, whose bullet-ridden body is found in the middle of Hale’s End, an old World War
I Mortuary. The problem for Sadler, Connie, and Damian is that Fisher was actually murdered by his wife, Lena Gray, back in 2004. As Sadler looks down at the rigid man lying on an ancient stone slab, his first instinct is to wonder what went wrong with the original investigation into Fisher’s death.
Lena originally pled guilty and was convicted of Fisher’s murder, serving a long stretch in prison.
She’s now out on parole and, with the support of her loyal sister, Kat, is living a secluded life back in the family home of Providence Villa, a crumbling, decaying mansion situated on the outskirts of Bampton. With sudden realization that Fisher has not in fact been dead for
12 years, the detectives are plunged into an investigation of a past crime that festers beneath the weight of its secrets. Determined to discover whether there has in fact been a miscarriage of justice, Connie and Damian visit Lena at Providence Villa. Lena, however, is reluctant to talk about how she positively identified Andrew in 2004, or
to explain how Fisher has miraculously turned up dead in Hale’s End Morgue.
So who did Lena Gray kill on the nineteenth of September 2004? As Lena looks toward Connie with cool detachment, Connie is aware that the two women seem to possess an undercurrent of strength. On hearing of Andrew’s murder, Kat is at first pale with shock, while a puzzled Lena asks: “What makes you so certain that the man I identified wasn’t my husband?” Becoming more and more sharp-tongued, Lena refuses to divulge her past, even declining to confide in her sister. When Lena suddenly vanishes, leaving the house in the middle of the night, Kat herself becomes an amateur sleuth, following a series of clues sent to her by a
frightened, hooded teenager. The trail eventually takes Kat to the seaside town of Whitby. A favorite of Lena’s, Whitby’s gothic sensibilities provided a fitting parallel to the sisters’ lives as they grew up in the limestone dourness of their Victorian villa. Kat’s rational mind tells her that Lena’s time in Whitby is somehow connected to the shooting of Andrew and therefore must be linked to Lena’s involvement in the 2004 killing.
Connie will be damned if she is going to stand by while Sadler takes the blame for the deceit being pulled by Lena Gray, who has offered neither denials
nor protestations of innocence. An expert in family secrets herself, Connie travels to the grim and rotting Hale’s End, but her reconnaissance sheds little light on what actually happened. Sadler finds himself under pressure from his boss, Superintendent Dai Llewellyn, over the misidentification of the body they all thought was Andrew Fisher, the murder of the real Andrew, and now the sudden disappearance of Lena. Positive that Lena is somehow involved, Llewelyn pressures Sadler and his team to find out where Fisher has been hiding for the past
12 years and why he was murdered at Hale’s End.
Writing with the same confidence that made In Bitter Chill so compelling, Ward pits frustrated cops against loyal colleagues in a serpentine tale that eventually ties a violent murder to a tragic suicide. While the author’s writing is sometimes a little too studious, its intricate layering allows for great character development on both the professional and personal fronts. Positing an elaborate collage of past and present, Ward contrasts the tentative attraction between Connie and Damian with the complicated baggage of Damian’s new marriage, as well as Connie’s ambitions as she seeks to rise through the ranks of Bampton’s Murder Squad. Sadler needs to prove his worth during this new investigation as he delves back into the events of 2004 and Lena’s imprisonment as well as the bunch of “bloody incompetents” masquerading as police officers who were unwilling to deal with a series of rape cases and accusations of sexual assault.
In this story of power and humiliation, everything is connected to 2004, to
the identity of the man who Lena murdered. Lena Gray has lived an extraordinary life, but it is one full of lies, fabrications, and secrets. Part of the suspense is Kat’s journey as she focuses on the need to find Lena in order to discover what is actually going on. Even before the fragile connection to her sister begins to dissolve, Ward does a great job of capturing Kat’s terrible angst as well as her need to finally vindicate the dark mysteries of Lena’s haunting and inscrutable past.