One of the major ingredients for any new house purchase is always Location, Location, Location, so Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsop would have us believe. The same can be said for thriller writing. Some of the best mystery stories in the past owe their success to the setting in general, even the setting for their pivotal crimes. Morse for example, really wouldn’t have worked as well, if it had been set in Glasgow for example. Nothing against Glasgow, Angels and Demons, owes its success to the backdrop of Rome and the election of a new Pope. The corridors of power in Washington, London, Moscow and the Kremlin, have for years been the biggest draw for readers. Parks are regularly used as the setting for crimes, Central Park features in numerous film and TV dramas, while Gerard O’Donovan’s book The Priest is set in around Dublin’s largest green space, Phoenix Park. This month’s book is set among the lush green woodland of The New Forest in Hampshire in southern England. It’s Dying Wish by James Raven (www.james-raven.com) published by Robert Hale Books (www.halebooks.com).
According to the book, the New Forest covers around 200 square miles of English countryside, originally a hunting ground for the monarchy it is now one of the UK’s most popular destinations for day-trippers, campers and cyclists. It’s a patchwork of open heath and dense woodland, inhabited by its own breed of wild pony and various types of deer.
Over the years this area’s dark history has given rise to grim legends and withheld sinister secrets, but a few are about to come to the surface. When a local author Grant Mason, whose most recent work has been a series of books on walks around the forest, is taken ill at a book signing in the nearby city of Southampton, his dying wish is for his loyal assistant to burn his house down. Shocked at this request, she contacts her friend Detective Chief Inspector Jeff Temple, who goes to the house deep in the New Forest to check things out and is attacked when he disturbs an intruder A follow up search of the property reveals an array of unusual objects including a stun gun, explicit photo’s, as well as a map of the new forest with crosses and names marked on it. What initially looks like an open and shut case, soon turns in to a series of missing persons cold cases. As temple and his team start digging at the various sites and discovering bodies, they also find graphic video evidence on a laptop that points to to the likely probability that Mason wasn’t alone. The team were already working on a missing persons case before this; the disappearance of a couple from Southampton. But there names weren’t on the map, so are they connected and if so where are they. The race is on to find the couple and stop Grant’s sexually depraved accomplice before more people are abducted and killed, All the while Temple and his team have their own various personal problems to deal with.
At just over two hundred pages long, Raven’s book doesn’t leave room for niceties its a real ‘wham bam thank you mam‘ hell ride from the start. This is the next best thing to having a sack put over your head , your hands tied and thrown in the back of a vehicle as it has you gripped from page one. This is thriller writing at it’s best, it’s a well thought out and original story set in a vast virginal landscape which would and should give any writer big juicy hunks of inspiration and James has harvested this beautifully.
This isn’t the first time that British author James Raven has broken new ground in original story-lines and settings, his
previous book Random Targets has Jeff and the team hunting a sniper whose taking pot-shots at rush hour traffic on Britain’s motorways. This is Raven, a former journalist’s tenth book and his fourth featuring DCI Jeff Temple. The others are the afore mentioned Random Targets, Rollover and Urban Myth, the next book featuring DCI Temple is Blogger and will be published in early 2016. His other books include After Execution, Red Blitz, Artic Blood and Stark Warning.
Temple himself is an iconic British detective cut from the same cloth as other modern fictional policemen like Tom Barnaby from TV’s Midsommer Murders, He is flawed and is affected by his personal life, especially in this book. He’s no Jack Bauer, but he does take stupid risks on a number of occasions, leading to the proof that he is human and also bleeds as well as get battered and bruised not once but at least twice, which is good to see in a protagonist. It’s nice that a suspect can slip away every now and then owing to the fact that he’s knocked the hero unconscious, not through some stupid Hollywood fantastical excuse.
The story-line is not for the fainthearted, the descriptions of the depraved acts committed by Grant Mason and his accomplice are full in your face and gives the real feeling you’re in on the case with Temple and his team. It takes Fifty Shades of Grey to and new dark and depraved level. It left me feeling like I’d been hit with a fully packed rucksack and hiking boots.
So with the nights definitely closing in on us, this is the ideal book to read on dark windy evenings. Then after that I’d go get my hands on his previous books. Because Raven is proof that small, tightly written, plot driven books are cool.