In A Patient Fury, Ward returns to the town of Bampton in the bucolic, wind-swept county of Derbyshire, tumbling us back into the lives of CID Officer Detective Constable Connie Childs and her boss, Detective Inspector Francis Sadler. Connie and Francis are called to a suspicious fire at one of the detached houses on Cross Farm Lane, just out of inner Bampton. Beyond the smoke, flames, and destruction, neither is prepared for the outline of a slowly revolving body dangling behind a ruined glass window, suspended from a fitting on the landing's ceiling.
The scene looks like a murder-suicide: the wife, Francesca, killed Peter, her older husband, and Charlie, their five-year-old boy. Sadler’s first duty is to get to the station to update Superintendent Llewellyn, then to interview Julia and George, Peter’s grown children from his previous marriage. An initial testimony is important, as is the forensics assessment of the site of the crime. Because the flames seemed to have come from the bedroom where Charlie was sleeping, Sadler and Lewellyn are quick to view Francesca’s final act as suicide. This was a family murder, foreshadowed by a history of domestic violence with the mother as the perpetrator.
Connie, however, is unconvinced. She demands Sadler investigate the disappearance of Peter’s first wife, Elizabeth Winson. Julia and George become Connie’s chief suspects in a case rapidly swirling out of control. Julia is forthcoming about the events leading up to her mother’s disappearance; George, on the other hand, never mentions that day in 1980 when their mum left a note--“back in two minutes”--on the front door of her knitting shop on Horncastle High Street. The case rings a distant bell. According to Sadler, the investigation gave the ordinary missing persons case an added twist. Though Elizabeth was eventually declared dead in 1991, Connie is convinced that Elizbeth’s vanishing has something to do with what happened “last night,” even after the preliminary conclusion that Francesca was responsible for the murders.
Thus begins a chaotic jumble of events set in motion by two tragedies, one in the present and one in the past. Is George a good, conscientious son or a short-tempered, narcissistic brother who can't cope after his father’s death? Julia tells Connie and Sadler about her work as a cave guide at Anchor Cavern and how, at night, she conducts tours of Bampton, basing her walks on local history and the town’s ghostly legends. Battling an ever-present fear, Julia feels the past calling out. She refuses to think of her missing mother--perhaps buried in some shallow grave somewhere--or her dead father, or of lovely little Charlie or cool, composed Francesca. She particularly refuses to think of the shadow that stands watching her house and the brief glimpse of the outline that she thinks might be George.
In her colorful prose, Ward nails Julia’s emotions, George’s shadiness, and Connie and Sadler’s world-weariness. Bleary from insomnia, Sadler’s frustration with Connie is obvious. Horrific thoughts about the murders crowd all else from Connie’s mind. Back on the team for only six months, Connie is subdued and distant, refusing to attend any social occasions. She struggles to hide her disquiet at Sandler’s favorable treatment of DS Carole Matthews, a seasoned detective sergeant who is about to replace her old colleague, DS Damian Palmer. Sadler’s opinion is that Matthews, a detective on the fast track to success, should have been made inspector long before now. Connie is certain the past has got to be connected to the case. A woman goes missing in Bampton; it attracts media attention, then nearly forty years later there’s another catastrophe. There’s got to be a link.
Frustrated, Connie goes on the hunt, visiting the retired detective in Skegness who worked on the original investigation into Elizabeth’s disappearance. Irritated at Sadler’s inability to see the pattern, Connie struggles to contain her own brand of fury. She knows she’s being sidelined because she has dared challenge Sadler’s perceived narrative. Connie also worries about the memory of Francesca, a woman now being paraded throughout the media as a monster, a killer of her own child and a mass murderer. No one, including Sadler, seems to acknowledge that there’s little evidence and slim motivation that Francesca was the actual perpetrator. The story’s title becomes metaphor--“a patient fury” as demons bend and twist into the reality of each character's psyche.
A leisurely plotter, Ward allows the beautiful village of Bampton to serve as a character unto itself with a descriptive sense of a life far removed from the big city’s bustle. Dogged and relentless, Connie finally has the satisfaction of unearthing the truth, away from Sadler and Lewellyn’s critical scrutiny. This is true for both the murder victims and for a woman who finds herself swept up in a story of her own making, no longer able to put her splintered past behind her.