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Monday, 5 December 2016

‘Dead Silent’ by Mark Roberts

Published by Head of Zeus,
5 May 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-78408292-5 (HB)

The first in Mark Roberts’s Liverpool-set Red River City series promised a lot in terms of creepy quasi-religious background, ample gory violence and characters with plenty going on in their lives.

Dead Silent, the second in the series, follows similar themes and doesn’t disappoint.

Liverpool’s two cathedrals have key roles to play, as does protagonist DCI Eve Clay’s difficult childhood in a Catholic children’s home. But the main action takes place in and around two chilling houses, and an upmarket adult care home with a venomous owner.

It opens, as did the first, with a bizarre and sickening murder late on a freezing midwinter night. An elderly man has been skewered with a wooden stake, and his body arranged in a parody of a famous religious painting. His sixty-something daughter saw what happened and is in hospital after an apparent epileptic fit, and seems to have been stunned into silence by the experience.

Eve Clay has another convoluted crime to unravel, and she and her diverse team set about picking apart the victim’s life in order to discover who hated him enough to visit such horror on him. And of course there are more murders, with the same theme. Art history, child psychology and plain old-fashioned man’s inhumanity to man all provide clues, but the final solution surprises everyone, not least Eve herself.

Mark Roberts clearly knows Liverpool intimately; the city itself plays almost as important a part as the novel’s characters. And in this second foray into both the place and its people, those characters begin to emerge more clearly as individuals: DS Bill Hendricks the psychologist; DS Gina Riley the ace interviewer; action man DS Karl Stone; Harper the pathologist’s quiet assistant are just a few.

The bad guys and supporting players are even more crisply drawn: vicious Adam Miller, the care home owner; Danielle, his glamorous but fragile wife; Abey, the five-year-old in a man’s body; Gabriel Huddersfield the abused religious maniac; and above all Louise, the first victim’s daughter, compassionate, damaged and clearly harbouring secrets.

Mark Roberts is rapidly showing himself to be a master of the kind of crime fiction that delves into the nature of evil as well as inviting the reader to solve the a complex puzzle. He doesn’t write comfortable books, but he certainly produces page-turners; however many times I had to turn away, appalled by the depths to which some of the characters could sink, I always had to return and read on.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Mark Roberts was born and raised in Liverpool and was educated at St. Francis Xavier's College. He was a teacher for twenty years and for the last ten years has worked as a special school teacher. He received a Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for best new play of the year. The Sixth Soul was his first novel for adults.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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